Intersectionality as Our Collective Strength

By Sonia Zárate, PhD, SACNAS President

A continuation of our Presidential Series on STEM + Culture Chronicle. Read on to find out how YOU can join the conversation.

81 percent of Americans are unable to name a living scientist. And when asked to describe the characteristics of a scientist, the standard response is likely a white man with crazy hair, glasses, and a lab coat. As a Chicanx and a woman in science, I do not fit this description. Moreover, my liminal identity at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender is token at best and at worst, dismissed to the fringe of the scientific ecosystem.

Legal scholar and activist, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 and defined it as, “a metaphor for understanding multiple forms of inequality that compound themselves to create obstacles that are not understood with conventional ways of thinking.” While intersectionality began as a legal concept, its applications to the fight for equity across all sectors are at the forefront of the conversation.

Legal scholar and activist, Kimberlé Crenshaw, JD

In STEM, in particular, we know we must acknowledge the problematic consequences that arise when we treat race, gender, and ability as mutually exclusive categories of experience. For example, the lack of women of color in STEM cannot be fully addressed as a gender issue, because it is also a race/ethnicity issue.

If we are to realize the vision of true diversity in STEM, we need to better understand the complex obstacles unique to those who embody the intersection. Moreover, if the scientific enterprise if to benefit from the potential that diversity holds, we need to move away from deficit thinking or blaming individuals and instead focus our attention on removing the institutionalized barriers that serve to exclude.

This is what a scientist looks like. Dr. Sonia Zárate and Dr. Jedidiah Isler, whose TED Talk introduced the idea of “liminal identities.”

As a model for inclusion, SACNAS does not have a fringe. We recognize the benefits that intersectional identities bring to STEM. By valuing the intersectional experience, SACNAS helps flip the narrative to one where intersectionality is a strength and an asset. I have previously shared that I started my undergraduate career at the age of 24 as a single parent. I worked hard to balance being a good parent and a good science student. But for the first two years, I felt that I had to keep my identities separate for fear that I would not be taken seriously.

In reality, I was terrified of being stereotyped. It wasn’t until I walked into my first SACNAS conference that I first felt that I could be my whole self. Being one of a few women of color in my discipline and a single parent, I had spent so much time and put in great effort to “fit in”. At SACNAS, I just “fit”. The inclusive environment at SACNAS helped me appreciate that my identities as a woman, mother, Chicanx, and scientist provided me a unique perspective that was valuable to science. It also helped reinforce that intersectional experiences are a strength.

Share Your Intersectional Identities

In December 2019, we shared six stories about Belonging. Now, we invite you to share your intersectional identities, the spaces in-between, and how they’ve been a source of strength in your academic and/or professional trajectory in STEM. Do you have a story about intersectionality? I’ll be curating this special Presidential Series on STEM + Culture Chronicle and look forward to hearing from you.

Calling all SACNISTAS across the education and career spectrum.

Share your stories, perspectives, and solutions! Articles should be written in an accessible, narrative based format. More details about our intention for STEM + Culture Chronicle here.

Pitches/abstracts should give us a clear idea of the featured topic (Intersectionality) you want to focus on and your proposed approach. We are accepting pitches for:

  • Profiles/Interviews/Q&As 500–1,000 words
  • Personal stories and insights — 800–1,000 words
  • Feature length articles — 1,500–2,000 words

(For feature article pitches, include data, sources, and relevant research that you will utilize.)

Pitches should be 150–200 words max. Submit pitches here!

Questions? Email the editor of STEM + Culture Chronicle.

  1. Intersectionality
    Pitch/abstract submission: March 1 — March 20, 2020
    Accepted articles due: April 30, 2020
    Publication: June 2020

2. Inclusion
Pitch/abstract submission: August 1–15, 2020
Accepted articles due: October 30, 2020
Publication — December 2020

About Dr. Sonia Zárate, SACNAS President

Dr. Sonia Zárate is the fourth woman to lead the organization in its 47-year history and the first President to have benefited from SACNAS since she was an undergraduate. She is committed to continuing to lead national efforts to diversify the STEM enterprise and work towards SACNAS’ vision of achieving true diversity in STEM.



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Dedicated to advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in science. Science, culture, and community in the movement for true diversity in STEM.