Communicating Our Intersecting Identities (2022)

Morgan Flake

In my Public Health class, I focus on the learning outcome: Communicating one’s own intersecting identities of difference and how they position oneself in relation to power, privilege, and inequity.

I have students complete an Identity Inventory independently. I tell students that this will be for them to keep and they don’t have to turn it in or share any part of it except for what they choose to.

I use what I call the Chart of Oppression to talk about different forms of oppression, dominant/agent and non-dominant/target identities, and the concept that systematic oppression = prejudice + systematic power. This helps explain that while someone in the target category can dislike or even hold prejudice against someone from the dominant category, they cannot oppress that person. For example, a transgender person could have a prejudice against cisgender people, but they can’t oppress cisgender people, because transgender people do not have systematic power in this setting. This is helpful to stave off claims of “reverse racism,” “reverse sexism,” etc. I use a version where some spaces are missing and ask students to fill it in to make it more interactive.

Then in class, I ask students to choose one identity from their Identity Inventory to explore for 5 minutes through writing or drawing. The main question is: how does this aspect of your identity influence your life? After the 5 minutes, I ask students whether they chose an identity in which they are an agent or a target. They do not have to share how they identify in that category (unless they want to), just whether they are an agent or a target in that identity. Most students report that they have chosen one in which they are a target. I then explain the concept that people tend to be more comfortable thinking and talking about places where they do not hold privilege. (Example: it’s more comfortable for me to acknowledge how being a woman affects me than how being white affects me.) We discuss why. Then I ask students to spend 5 more minutes exploring another aspect of their identity, this time in the opposite side, so that if they chose an identity where they are a target, this time they choose one in which they are an agent, and vis versa, followed by more discussion. I use this to encourage students to lean into the discomfort of exploring and learning about identities in which they do hold privilege.

I welcome others to use, modify, and give me feedback on this activity and the two resources I attached!


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