Intersectionality: Advocating and Embracing Your Whole Self and Others


Have you ever considered the multiple identities you have? If you haven’t, think about how you identify on a daily basis and how some of those identities may be stronger during specific situations. Those may include but are not limited to your education, profession, race/ethnicity, gender, age religion, etc. 

The term “Intersectionality” was first introduced by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions are interconnected and can’t be studied separately from one another. She focused on the operation of systems of power and experiences of oppression against Black women, who because of their multiple identities, were left out of anti-discrimination laws. 

“If I’m a black woman, I have some disadvantages because I’m a woman and some disadvantages because I’m black. But I also have some disadvantages specifically because I’m [a] black woman, which neither black men nor white women have to deal with. That’s intersectionality; race, gender, and every other way to be disadvantaged interact with each other.” –(u/Amarkov)

Our individual identities are complex. If you look around the room, you may find colleagues that look like you and share many similarities. On the other hand, you might find yourself as the “only” or the “first” in the room to do something. It is okay. What is important is that you recognize that identities are valued differently and as a result, each person’s experiences are different. 

What is the importance of intersectionality in public health?

Intersectionality can serve as a useful framework to understand social determinants of health and the multi-dimensional overlapping factors that influence health outcomes. When it comes to social inequalities, there are many factors that work together and shape people’s lives differently. It is important to understand the multiple systems of oppression such as structural racism, colorism, ethnocentrism, and the intersection of other systemic oppressors that shape social determinants of health.

“…The study of intersectionality . . . has the potential to provide critical guidance for policies and programs. It enables policies and programs to identify whom to focus on, whom to protect, what exactly to promote and why. It also provides a simple way to monitor and evaluate the impact of policies and programs on different sub-groups from the most disadvantaged through the middle layers to those with particular advantages.” –Sen G.

Knowing our own identities are important to advocate for ourselves. When we bring these to the table, we are bringing a different perspective, new ideas, and diverse experiences. As public health leaders, knowing how different identities of the population of study intersect, is essential to better understand those social determinants of health. Thus, intersectionality gives us a unique health equity lens where we can draw from our own personal experiences to advance as public health leaders in the field. 

From Adversity to Opportunity (Part 1 of 2)

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. 
William Arthur Ward

James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s 2014 book, Turning Adversity into Opportunity (JHU login required) is an encouraging short read (64 pages). Geared toward aspiring leaders, the book also presents concepts applicable to the graduate student experience.  Below are a few highlights which may provide some perspective today.

1.    Accept the new normal. The authors assert that normal used to mean calm and stable but normal now means frequent turbulent change and disruptions.  It takes time and skill to learn to adequately shift priorities in  life and throughout the day as needs arise. Sometimes concentration means disconnecting (from technology, social settings, etc.) temporarily to refocus.  What are the frequent disruptions that interrupt your day? How do you typically respond? Do you recover from the interruptions and if so, how?

2.    Look at your situation from a broader perspective. When feeling overwhelmed, it’s hard, yet still important to see issues in a broader context. Some questions to ask yourself: Have others faced the issue I am facing and how did they work through this? Will this situation/issue be important to me an hour, day, or years from now? What are the various internal and external factors that impact my current issue?  

3.    Accept the diagnosis without accepting defeat.  It’s healthy to admit faults, mistakes, failures, and deficits however it’s unhealthy to remain stuck in them. The questions to keep asking:  how do I continue to move forward in spite of the failure/mistake and/or what does progress look like for me? I often ask this of students particularly if a course or term didn’t go as planned.

If you find that you need some support in working through current adversities, don’t forget that JHSAP and Student Life are here for you! 

Find Your Learning Style

 By Jessica Harrington, Director, Student Life

A common challenge for JHSPH students is adjusting their study habits for an eight-week term. What may have worked in other learning environments or during undergraduate studies, may not work as well for the JHSPH term system; but fear not! Below are some insightful study tips.

Learn how you learn. Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (hands on) learner? To find out, take this short quiz by the authors of Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently. Understanding how your mind works is important both for studying alone and when working in groups.

Try new techniques. Consider trying various techniques that complement your learning style. It’s also possible that one’s learning style may vary depending on the kind of material presented or one could prefer a combination of styles. Adjust as needed!

Don’t just reread. Check out this animated summary of Make it Stick (Brown, McDaniel, & Roediger) as presented by Productivity Game. See why the authors (who are cognitive scientists) say rereading alone is an ineffective strategy.

Reflect on your habits. If your study habits didn’t quite produce ideal results in first term, check out the 10 Rules of Studying by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Her Tedx talk is also very inspiring given the amount of academic failure from which she had to rebound.

Be patient with yourself! Learning is a dynamic function of the brain and some subjects are easier/more difficult than others. There is no one “right way” to learn.  Embrace your own style.


Graduate School Beyond the Classroom

by Paul Delgado, Graduate Program Assistant

One of the most common things I heard when I first started at JHSPH was the emphasis on how challenging the term system can be if you do not have a good balance in your life. If you are a first-year graduate student, during the first term you want to make sure you get the hang of classwork, get adapted to the city, and understand the way JHSPH works. It is easy to become quickly overwhelmed with all the opportunities being offered at the school and all the responsibilities you have outside of the classroom. For those of us that have been here longer, while we don’t have to take a full load of coursework, we still undergo a similar experience— writing thesis/dissertation, preparing for oral/comprehensive exams, conducting research. 

Sometimes, it is easy to forget to enjoy our time beyond the classroom. Many people emphasize negative things about the life of graduate students. Personally, I believe that graduate school is an amazing time to grow as a scholar, researcher, and as a person. You don’t have to give up who you are and what you like just because you are now a graduate student. It’s all about balance!

Here are some words of advice on how you can have a successful graduate-student life experience.

1. Prioritize your time and learn to say no: It is important to prioritize your time, wellbeing, and mental health. There are many opportunities that will be offered to you during your time at Hopkins, you do not have to say yes if you are putting at risk your research progress, grades, or mental health. It’s okay to say no. 

2. Surround yourself with people that have a balanced life: Academia can be stressful and challenging (I’m sure you know by now), surround yourself with others that also aim to have a good work-life balance.  

3. Mix up your routine and take time to reset: Often we get into a repetitive cycle that ends up making our life less enjoyable (miserable sometimes). Mixing things up/taking time off can not only positively impact your wellbeing but can also have a positive effect on your research creativity. 

4. Don’t give up your hobbies: If hiking is something that you enjoy doing, don’t give it up because you are now in graduate school. Taking the time to have fun outside of the classroom is okay. Do not feel guilty for doing so. 

5. Go explore the city you live in: Baltimore is an amazing city and there’s much more than just Mount Vernon, Fells Point, Charles Village. Get to know the city and its people. I assure you will develop a stronger relationship with Baltimore and will make your time at Hopkins more enjoyable.