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Illuminating intersectionality

Photo courtesy of the Also Sisters.

An anthology of Black ballet in Harlem. A documentary on how to better depict diverse identities in movies. A digital comic book that weaves together gender, sexuality and environmental challenges. A study on how perimenopause and menopause shift women’s identities.

These are among the projects aimed at taking the theory of intersectionality out of the classroom and into the public sphere as part of the U’s Transformative Intersectional Collective initiative.

The collective, referred to as TRIC and housed in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, selected seven programs and named 10 fellows in May and provided funds for them to explore the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, age, class, (dis)ability and other social characteristics using different methods.

The goal is to have a collection of works that foster understanding of what intersectionality is and how, as a theory, it strives to illuminate advantages and disadvantages experienced by individuals and groups. Some participants are pursuing traditional research, while others are developing creative works.

Lived realities

The creative research projects range from an anthology about the Dance Theatre of Harlem to a collaboration with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and local domestic violence shelters on an art exhibit about intimate partner violence. One team is creating a screenplay and tools to help filmmakers better represent intersectionality and avoid bias in movies. The American Indian Resource Center at the U is developing the Indigenous Womxn’s Collective.

On the research side, scholars are examining topics that range from disparities in the public health discourse on oral health and tobacco use in underserved populations; the use of quilting and sewing circles by Black women to counter a capitalist, patriarchal society; and the lived realities of Bhutanese refugees in two cities (Salt Lake City and Seattle).

“We really wanted to highlight intersectionality in the way that we think about power and oppression around race, gender and other identities, but we also wanted to think about how it is being deployed across different fields,” said Annie Fukushima, lead fellow and associate dean of research and academic affairs for Transform. “We’re very diverse in where we’re coming from so the idea was to really highlight the different ways to deploy intersectional theory as practice. It looks different depending on the field you come from.”

For her project, Lisa J. Taylor-Swanson, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, is looking at the experience of perimenopause and menopause through an intersectional lens. Taylor-Swanson noted she uses the term “women” because “everyone with a uterus will go through menopause and most self-identify as women.”

Menopausal symptoms are debilitating for many women. And yet one survey found 70% of women who sought help from a physician were not given any interventions to try or a prescription that might address their physical discomfort—and the situation is even worse for people of color, queer women and people who live in rural areas or who are uninsured.

“We will discuss women’s intersectionally lived experiences, and that of their community members, with respect to perimenopause,” Taylor-Swanson said. “Then we will create information to spread across the state to alert women that they are not alone, that there is help to be had and that they are not losing their minds, because many women think that they are literally going crazy during perimenopause and menopause.”

Sonia and Miriam Albert-Sobrino, assistant professors in the Department of Film and Media Arts and known as the Also Sisters, say their project will bring together media creators, specifically filmmakers and writers, alongside activists to create a screenplay for a fictional movie that uses an intersectional approach. They also plan to develop tools to help storytellers make fiction through an intersectional lens.

“As filmmakers, it has always been our goal to utilize our medium to provoke thought and inspire human connection” said Sonia Albert-Sobrino. “A holistic intersectional lens is the most sincere approach to our practice. We cannot wait to work on the writing of a piece that will help us develop strategies and discover tools to better tell diverse stories. Our hope is that for audiences this project culminates in a sincere attempt at representing our world more inclusively.

A national network

Transform received a $517,600 grant in 2021 from the Mellon Foundation to fund TRIC and the U’s participation in an intersectional studies collective that includes five other universities: New York University, the University of Southern California, Georgia State University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The grant allows Transform to approach intersectionality from different angles over three years. In the first year, the U, in partnership with Utah State University, selected 14 fellows to host workshops aimed at strengthening intersectional approaches to teaching in the areas of disability, transgender and queer of color critique, environmental anti-racism, Indigeneity and decolonial justice, and carceral studies.

In this second year, the focus is on developing projects that exemplify intersectionality in practice, alongside research. In the third year, the program will support student internships, community-engaged research projects and initiatives aimed at institutional change as well as showcasing the projects and research now underway. TRIC hopes to collect the projects in a digital archive at the Marriott Library and make them available to the public.

“Oftentimes when people think of intersectional inquiry, it sounds so theoretical and academically heavy,” Fukushima said. “But because we have a lot of artists, both filmmakers and other material artists participating in these projects, I think it will help materialize intersectionality visually for people. It will sound, look and maybe even feel different.”

The projects

• Utah Prison Education Project, Andy Eisen, director

• “Bhutanese refugees and their journey to the U.S.,” Shobha Gurung, professor, sociology and gender studies

• “Examining environmental injustices among the aging migrant population,” Roger Renteria, graduate research assistant, sociology

• Indigenous Womxn’s Collective, Samantha Eldridge, director of the American Indian Resource Center, Tashina Barber, center program manager, and Hailee Roberts, center program coordinator

• Black Ballet Research Collaborative, Joselli Deans, associate professor, dance, and Kimberleigh Jordan, lecturer, Humanities and Fine Arts Division, Spelman College

• “Gathering, Sewing, Giving: The Chronopolitics of Black Women’s Quilting,” Crystal S. Rudds, assistant professor, communication

• (Un)stoppable: Art + Play workshops, Gender-based Violence Consortium, Sonia Salari, professor, Family & Consumer Studies; Annie Isabel Fukushima, associate professor, ethnic studies; Lilian Agar, artist; Shalandrea Houchen, artist; and Sanila Math, graduate student, medicine

• “Sand Sage: A webtoon project,” Lien Fan Shen, professor, film and media arts

• “Research at the intersections: Disability, race, Indigeneity, ethnicity,” Angela Marie Smith, director, disability studies, and Lezlie Frye, assistant professor, gender studies

• “Building a cinematic narrative through an intersectional lens,” Sonia and Miriam Albert-Sobrino, assistant professors, film and media arts

• “Speaking the language of Indigenous climate justice: The case of Chamoru language revitalization,” Kinny Torre, Ph.D. student, communication

• Intersections, Jorge Rojas, senior programmer, health sciences

• An intersectional and health equity lens on the public health discourse on oral health and tobacco use disparities among underserved and marginalized populations,” Tashelle Wright, postdoctoral research associate, Department of Family and Preventative Medicine

• “We Will Live: Black Christian Feminists in the Age of Revolutions,” Jaimie Crumley, assistant professor, gender and ethnic studies

• “A Wound, a Placeholder, A Future: Intersectional Critique of the X in Latinx,” Cyndney Caradonna, Ph.D. student, educational leadership and policy