Intersectionality in the Language and Writing Classroom

Romero, Yasmine. Intersectionality in the Language and Writing Classroom. 2016. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

Current research in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) has begun to explore how variables of race, gender, and sexuality impact student identities and investment (Motha, 2014; Norton and Davis, 2011). For example, Nelson’s (2009) foundational work on sexual diversity as a pedagogical resource has addressed the need for engaging sexuality in our research and teaching practices. Explorations have been limited to a variable-by-variable approach, or an in-depth and nuanced exploration of each intersection; however, this approach can lead to considering variables such as race, gender, and sexuality as mutually exclusive, making it impossible to investigate voices and narratives that cannot be fully understood by a single identity. Furthermore, this kind of approach inadvertently constructs these variables as static, concrete categories, contradicting the post-structuralist notion of identity as fluid, performative, and multiple. By taking a variable-with-variable, approach, or an intersectional approach, researchers will not only be able to overcome these limitations, but will also be able to challenge, develop, and revise theories of language, identity and investment in the field of TESOL.

I explore what an intersectional approach is, what it enables us to accomplish in our research and teaching, and its symbolic and material consequences for our understanding of language and identity. By laminating methodological and theoretical approaches including Crenshaw’s (1999) concept of intersectionality, I build what I term a variable-with-variable approach which I use to research my own classroom, a 200-level composition course for multilingual language learners (MLLs). I examine the constructions of race, gender, and sexuality, the narrations of critical moments in classroom interaction, and the ways in which students and I encounter the convergence of these identity intersections. This kind of approach allows us to ask: in what ways do classroom and research practices that focus on sexuality engage with overlaps of race and gender? How does investigating sexual identities without addressing race, gender, class, or other intersections nullify and/or silence the voices and narratives of queers of color? I address these questions and more in my interrogation of the convergence of race, gender, and sexuality in the context of my own classroom.