“Intersectionality in STEM: Analysis. Action.” This was the topic of one of our STEM circuit meetings. By definition, intersectionality is the theory that the overlap of various social identities, e.g. race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual. Our speaker Sekile M. Nzinga-Johnson, Ph.D., MSW, director of the Women´s Center at Northwestern University, shared with us many inspiring perspectives and personal experiences.
She started with a quote from Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, describing how intersectionality is an extremely complex issue with many variables and consequences. Everybody has different backgrounds, experiences, and expectations. She emphasized the importance of looking around and asking questions like “Who is not in this room? Who is suffering the most? Am I surrounded by diversity as much as possible? Am I listening to other voices?” She also shared with us her other favorite quote by Audre Lorde “You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other.” to stress that we have to support and care about things that are not personally related to us. I personally liked her advice that we have to center ourselves. Take care of yourself first! You can help others only when you have enough energy. Sometimes you have to prioritize yourself and just survive the hard part of your life and that is okay; you can help and support others later.
The whole topic deeply resonates with me. I am originally from the Czech Republic and thanks to my Fulbright internship I have spent almost one year in the USA in a heterogenous multicultural environment. I have experienced different cultures and cultural events, educational systems, working environments, health systems, etc. I celebrated traditional American Thanksgiving, Czech Christmas with international friends, Chinese New Year, and a Jewish Seder. A few weeks ago, I, a white European from the Czech Republic, was the “minority” at the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar where I met 80 Fulbrighters from 51 different countries. And it was absolutely amazing.
Another very strong experience was attending The Multicultural Dialogue Group at Northwestern University. It is an initiative by the Graduate International Students Association to connect students, postdoctoral trainees, visiting scholars, and others from various backgrounds with one another, and to create opportunities for meaningful conversations on different topics including cultural differences, self-identity, relationships, prejudices, religions, arts, and more. Every meeting has a specific topic and the discussion is peer-moderated. Everybody has the opportunity to share own experiences or opinions. During the first meeting, I was nicely “shocked” how these conversations are deep, honest, and personal. I have learned so much and I am much more aware to avoid cultural stigma or biases.
I wish everybody has these experiences and everybody is open to listening and understanding of different voices. We are the same, we share the common life goals like being happy and healthy. Our only differences are our different personalities and life experiences.