Book Review #1776. New Directions for Higher Education: Enacting Intersectionality in Student Affairs. (2017). Wijeyesinghe, Charmaine L. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 104 pp. $25.00 (Paperback). ISBN: 978-1-1194-0863-5.
Student Success Center
Young Harris College
Imagine how a bisexual, bi-racial, Jewish student from Italy experiences the world and how they experience an American college. The transition can be hard on many levels. Some student affairs practitioners might categorize this student as only Italian, others only as bi-racial, and still some as only bisexual. However, the student cannot separate themselves from any of their identities. “Students come to college with a set of experiences that have accumulated over the course of their lifetime” and for them it is important that advisors and student affairs staff recognize a student’s whole identity. (p. 53) Advisors are in a prime position to help students embrace their whole self and help others see students as more than one box or one form. In order to truly see the diversity of an institution’s students (individually and as social cohorts) and to work holistically with those students an intersectionality approach to identity is important. Approaching advising and student affairs work through the lens of intersectionality helps “influence a students’ ability to become deeply integrated within the academic and social life of campus” and aids in the retention of students. (p. 61)
This volume of New Directions for Higher Education focuses on the importance of embracing intersectionality within Student Affairs. While this monograph might not speak directly to incorporating intersectional approaches into advising practices, this work is helpful in showing advisors ways in which to begin thinking about the intersectional lives of their students and how to help students achieve their full potential. There are some definite pros and cons to this volume for advising professionals. This monograph is not meant to be read by those who have never encountered intersectional theory. Each work within expands upon the basic theory of intersectionality and pushes practitioners to think deeply about how it is used in daily work with students. While this book offers powerful advice in helping practitioners brainstorm some intersectional approaches to their work, there is very little programming and tangible outcomes for advisors.
That said this is a powerful monograph; especially Dr. Strayhorn’s chapter. His chapter focuses on using intersectionality in research within the field of student affairs. While all of the chapters are written, researched, and well thought out, Strayhorn’s chapter is an accessible read. His prose invokes the spirit of intersectionality. He argues that incorporating the student’s whole identity within research practices “adds rigor” to research. (p. 59) He further argues that intersectionality applied to research practice “attunes researchers to larger, looming issues, dominant structures, and issues of both power and oppression.” (p. 61) Strayhorn’s accounts of his own research are the crux of the chapter. He talks frankly about the students and situations that made him think bigger and this provides an eye-opening vision of how students think about their identities.
This monograph offers advisors an opportunity to begin thinking about their advisees as multidimensional people trying to navigate college life, academic requirements, graduation expectations, and career choices. Realizing all of the aspects of student’s identities is powerful for advisors. As Wijeyesinghe states in the opening of the book intersectional theory “encourages student affairs staff to see the diversity within social groups, because the category of… ‘woman’ includes women who vary across racial and ethnic background, sexual orientations, faith traditions, ages, and other social identities.” (p.7) This knowledge can help practitioners become more empathetic and compassionate towards the students we serve.