Minority/Multicultural Affairs and Centers are the hub for intersectionality. Working in several Multicultural Offices for multiple years, I have found that individuals with numerous identities find their way to these centers and departments. It is a phenomenon many don’t see, let alone appreciate. Two of the major goals of a student affairs center are to assist students with their education and identity development. These centers encompass these goals and take further steps to assist students by creating a space for them to become change agents and subsequently change the material conditions of these centers. I will argue that because these offices are a place where intersections commune, it is in these interactions that students with multiple, oppressive identities become aware of their oppression and their peers’ and want to move to action by improving these departments and centers by increasing resources, space, and social capital.
I identify as a Haitian African American male with learning disabilities from a working to middle class family. Outside of my family, I haven’t found anyone else with these same identities, yet. Is my whole life considered a “nuance”? I live a life with these identities intersecting. These identities do not interact one by one or even two by two but simultaneously. Consider this analogy. Each identity is a color, e.g. Haitian is blue and African American is Green. Each color has its own unique identity already, but when you mix the two, you get purple which also has its own unique identity. None of the colors are negated by another, but all three still exist simultaneously. The color purple is what we call living in the intersections. Intersectionality acknowledges,
“that individuals hold multiple social identities simultaneously and that the confluence of those identities shape the ways in which they navigate a matrix of domination (i.e., interlocking systems of oppression such as racism and sexism) and how individuals and groups experiences the world socially, economically, and politically (Strayhorn, 2013, pp. 111).
Furthermore, it is a “frame that seeks transformation of material conditions of individuals who are most in need in society (Strayhorn, 2013, pp. 10). Our world is constructed to favor those of dominate identities and certain socio-economic statuses. Being a person of color, an ethnic minority, and a person with learning disabilities, I have three subordinate identities that are underrepresented, disenfranchised, and discriminated against. Thus my life experiences will differ from other minorities and whites. An African American whose family has been in the United States for multiple generations may not know the culture of fear around U.S. Immigration Officers and the potential reality that their family and/or friends may be deported. A white student may not be called dumb or unintelligent because of his/her/zer race and ability. Subsequently, these identities become invisible barriers to equality, social capital, and resources. In my opinion, such oppressive identities not only affect the individuals, but groups and organizations.
I have an intimate understanding of Minority/Multicultural Centers and Offices. In both undergrad and graduate school, I attended Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) and there weren’t many places on campus where I could be my full self and share all my identities. Minority/Multicultural offices were a home away from home. My differences were not only accepted but appreciated. These were the spaces where students with multiple identities communed. My peers and I discussed our college experiences and shared stories of injustices and microagressions during our lives and on campus. In these interactions, I learned the types of discrimination from my peers who were Latino/a, women, international, biracial, Muslim and/or those who identified as LGBTQQIA. One of the common themes many of us shared in our experiences was the prevailing point that we did not have the same access to resources as our white, heterosexual counterparts. The perfect example was our beloved office. We began to ask why our office had similarities to our own narratives.
As I am product of these multicultural affairs offices and worked in numerous Multicultural Offices for several years, I have found that as students start to recognize their social status, they begin to make parallels between their life experiences and the status or ranking of their Minority/Multicultural office or center. In those moments, the ideas of taking action begin to unfold. For example, when I worked in a multicultural office, students and student groups that reported from that office felt we needed more funds to complete projects and events that would serve the diverse population on campus. Through the guidance of several student affairs practitioners, coupled with the magic of student development, the students were able to secure more funds and personnel. In this process, they gained more social capital and increased their allies. All events helped advance their cause and their office.
Currently, most multicultural offices are not given the resources they need to do the basics for their students and it is unfortunate. Intersectionality isn’t just theoretical framework to explain social identities and how they interact in our society, but it forces us to consider the material conditions of individuals who are located in several oppressive identities. This urges me to ask several questions. There are many of these offices and centers that are underfunded, understaffed and under resourced. I have experienced and heard from across the field that these centers are often the first to be cut or downsized during institutional budget crisis or constraints. Are Minority/Multicultural Affairs and Centers not seen as important as other departments because of who they serve? Have the whirlwinds of oppressive identities, that commune in these departments, become barriers to coveted resources? Are we punishing and blaming the victim?! One thing we know for sure is that these identities are constructed to maintain the status quo of inequality. According to Shuford and Palmer (2004) minority and multicultural affairs centers were a response to ethnic and racial minorities entering PWIs and often feeling lonely, isolated, and disenfranchised. Coupled with community pressures, student protests, and new laws created from the civil right movement, institutions were encouraged to create safe havens for these student populations. This is a tall order for any department, however many professionals across the nation have found ways to educate and develop their students. Think for a moment how much more these offices can do for their students if given adequate resources and equal social capital.
I often think about my own experience and how engaged I was as a student; in that engagement I chose a career in Higher Education. When I recall my experiences that were disparaging and discouraging, I can’t help but think on how much I don’t want other students to go through what my friends and I went through. Even more so, I want students that look like me and experience the world as I do, to be considered equal by all institutions. This isn’t just a personal ideal or a moral decision; it’s humanity.
Colber Prosper is an Adjunct Professor at the University of the District of Columbia and a Senior Consultant at Prosper & Partners International Consulting Firm, LLC. Colber received his Masters in College Student Personnel and consultants for various college and universities. Mr. Prosper and his company has conducted trainings in six different countries. Colber enjoys chilling, playing sports and spending time with his family and friends.
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Twitter: @colberprosper and @prosper_prns
Strayhorn, T. S. (2013). Living At The Intersections. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Strayhorn, T. S. (2013). Things Hoped For Using Intersectionality to Understand Black Students’ Aspirations. In T. Strayhorn (Eds.), Living At The Intersections (pp. 109-124). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Shuford, B. C. & Palmer, C. J. (2004). Multicultural Affairs. In F. MacKinnon & Associates (Eds.), Rentz’s Student Affairs Practice In Higher Education (pp. 218-238). Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher, LTD.