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We Are All Emotional Intersectional Beings: A Necessary Ingredient for Affective Intersectional Inclusion for ALL

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Sorcha Hyland
Lara Mann
Deb Griswold
Elizabeth Kozleski

Co-Lead Authors:  David I. Hernández-Saca & Sarah Salinas


What do we all have in common, yet at the same time experience qualitatively differently? We all experience a range of positive, negative and in-between emotions as we live our daily lives as human beings with multiple and intersectional identities (Crenshaw, 1991). Having multiple and intersectional identities with a range of emotionality, are two sides of the same coin. By intersectional we mean that a person can embody and experience cultural practices, such as reading out loud in a classroom or participating in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting for their child, differently, given their multiple identities. For example, an African American woman will experience cultural practices differently than an African American man or an emergent bilingual[1] who also happens to be Mexican. Dominant institutionalized narratives about historically and continually marginalized youth at their intersections, particularly the intersections of race and ability, persist to this day leading to misunderstandings (Hall, 1997; West, 1993).

See https://www.facebook.com/events/919051818230562/

This positioning of marginality existed in institutions such as the courts through single dimensional recognition of individual’s rights and personhood which leads to social patterns and practices of segregation based on gender, language, racial/ethnic, ability, and class differences (Crenshaw, 1989). In other words, our identities might include being a mother, father, student, sister, teacher, husband, partner, paraprofessional, special educator, general educator, and/or student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a Specific Learning Disability such as Dyslexia, Autism, Down Syndrome, or Emotional Behavioral Disorder. However, we are not only these, but have other identities that make us vulnerable to the perceptions that societies and cultures have inherited due to these past histories. Given these vulnerabilities, oppression and marginalization exist in multiple, simultaneous ways. An intersectional understanding of folks’ identities would not allow us to forget this.


Frierian philosophy directs us to recognize the full humanity of all persons which includes aspects of affect and emotionality, as well as the individually unique positionality and experiences shaped by our individual identities and intersectional lives. Some of these emotions might include anger, sadness, frustration, irritation, indignation, powerless, joy, disappointment, love, pride, and hope. We might experience more than one of these emotions at a time. Our emotions, feelings and affects and our intersectional identities, within educational contexts and cultures may, given our culture-less[2] and identity-less dominant perceptions, be unacknowledged (Artiles, King-Thorius, Bal, Waitoller, Neal, & Hernández-Saca, 2011; Artiles, 2017, October 19; Hernández-Saca, 2017). It is important to acknowledge and act in ways that respect such complexity and lived experiences particularly within the context of education.


Literature on parent-school relationships documents how families from historically marginalized communities continue to feel alienated from the bureaucracies associated with schools (Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; Trainor, 2010), as do their children. Specifically, consider the following key findings about how many school and transition personnel often fail to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families and youth with disabilities, by Greene (2011). This study finds that they often–

  1. Do not possess critical knowledge and skills related to the multiple dimensions of cultural and linguistic diversity (CLD);
  2. Do not respect CLD parents and youth with disabilities involved in the transition process;
  3. Do not acknowledge the hopes and dreams for the future held by CLD families and youth with disabilities;
  4. Do not engage in culturally responsive collaboration with CLD families and youth with disabilities in a way that makes them feel valued, listened to, and respected during the transition planning process. (p.118-119)


Similar patterns of intersectional marginalization have been documented at different grade levels. Gallo (2017) conducted a multi-year ethnographic study and documented the ways in which teachers enacted gender, racial, and immigration bias towards Mexican immigrant fathers of elementary age children in Pennsylvania. Gallo (2017) observed the increased marginalization of Mexican immigrant fathers, whose presence engendered greater suspension and surveillance in school and educational settings. Manifestations of this, she noted, often took the form of being ignored at parent-teacher conferences, and through teacher discourse about their parental engagement in language-building and literacy activities with their own children,  as subversive and detrimental to academic development (Gallo, 2017).


One explanation for this might be the deficit-thinking dominant in society about CLD youth at their intersections and their families. This deficit-thinking in turn becomes lies that circulate as “true” within society, communities, schools and individual minds about CLD youth and their families. According to sociologists, these lies are social constructions and stereotypes about particular individuals based on their membership in a particular identity group (Ainlay, Becker, & Coleman, 1986).  We have come to understand the traditional memberships (race, gender, sexual orientation, social class) as “identity badges” (Artiles, 2015). However, from a cultural historical approach to human development and activity, we can also see that professional, cultural, and other types of roles carry with them stereotypical residues, which, in light of the histories of violence against such groups, create vulnerability to stereotypes about who and how capable they are. Ginsberg, Kamat, Raghu, and Weaver (1995) pointed out the pervasive, yet public myth that teaching is an apolitical activity. This predicament makes it imperative to remind ourselves that we are all human[s] who experience the full range of negative, positive and in-between emotions, and that for too long our educational and broader culture has used these emotions as a mechanism of exclusion as opposed to inclusion.


How we critically feel and think about who counts within a community is a deeply ingrained and learned phenomena that has the potential to either humanize or dehumanize, or at worst, create the other (Said, 1978).  In creating the other, we construct an image of that person in our own way, a way that is deeply false to who they are and disconnected from reality and humanity (Powell, 2012).  Since building relationships involves emotionality, and relationships are central to education, we argue that attention to how we build relationships is imperative for quality teacher education, special and general education policy, and practice.  One way of accomplishing this feat involves the study of emotionality and affect in teacher learning about social justice issues for theory, research, and practice. We care deeply about students with dis/abilities[3] at their intersections and their families and believe their human development and well-being is necessary to create an inclusive psychology, school, and world for ALL.


Flight by multimedia Los Angeles artist, Aaron Morse. Sourced from his website here.

Because of our own unique intersectional identities within the system of education and society, we each experience qualitatively different lives. I (first author) am Latino of mixed ethnicity, of El Salvadorean and Palestinian descent, gay, and labeled with an auditory learning disability. I (second author) identify as a Mexican-American woman, Texas native, with a health impairment that affects the way I structure and access school and work environments.  However, what we both have in common is: 1) our dehumanizing experiences within the educational system that hurt us and our opportunities to learn; and 2) our passion for educational equity for all that centers the role of unconditional and radical love (Fromm, 1956). In our view, unconditional and radical love has the potential to re-envision educational policy and praxis—the coupling of critical thinking and action—for historically and continually marginalized youth with dis/abilities at their intersections and emotional states[4].


Image of Michael Brown (RIP), 18-year old unarmed African-American youth shot and killed in Ferguson, MO by police officer, Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. By Rin Jonson for Hyperallergic.


As a fairly new teacher educator I, David, have come to understand my role in the last year and a half as listening to my pre-service teachers’ fears, hopes, passions, dreams, and witnessing how they make sense of their developing understanding of critical educational equity issues. These issues include: White Supremacy, whiteness, cultural diversity, disproportionality (the over or under representation of students of color and minority students in special education compared to their white counterparts), special and general education law, the history of deinstitutionalization for people with dis/abilities in the U.S., questions related to whether special education and general education should merge, collaboration between special and general educators, the importance of intersectionality for serving historically and continually marginalized youth and their families, and other critical issues in special and general education.

All of these critical issues in special and general education have legal precedent and it is of critical importance for new teachers, at their intersections, to also understand how their future students and their families are qualitatively differently situated within the system. The legal precedent includes federal special education laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P.L. 108-446), and federal general education laws such Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (P.L. 89-10), later renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (P.L. 107-110) and more recently Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) (P.L. 114-95).


Developing a critical consciousness of such issues beyond the technical dimensions of teaching and learning is a central goal of the courses I teach in teacher preparation. The two courses are 1) special education law, assistive technology, and advocacy and 2) transition planning and programming for students with disabilities at their intersections. Developing a critical consciousness includes creating new knowledge that will help students build skills and dispositions as agents within the system about the technical dimensions of teaching and learning but also about social justice and philosophical aspects. These include not only issues of oppression as their students are evolving as human beings, for example, but also who they are and are becoming as teachers, along with them.


We are also reminded by scholars like Tuck and Yang (2014) that researchers have a moral obligation to move beyond the “collec[tion] of stories of pain and humiliation in the lives of those being researched for commodifications” (p.223). Adhering to this principle we seek to create a space for general and special education teacher practitioners, education researchers, and students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and parents, to reconcile the existing tensions and intersections we see in our relationships with students with dis/abilities at their intersections and education systems. As a necessary first step to unpacking these beliefs, we recognize two implicit tensions which shape how teachers, students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents from historically and continually marginalized populations interact in educational spaces.  These are special education IEP committee meetings, and the communication and advocacy efforts of parents within schools on behalf of their students.

First we call for an examination of the explicit and implicit values, assumptions, and perspectives embedded in educational policy at large, specifically policies of special education. By this we mean we want to start more conversations about the connotations, denotations, and expectations associated with the rights, responsibilities and entitlements of school districts, students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and their parents. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to trace the historical shifts and opinions of policy makers, judges, and public opinion towards the protection of the educational and civil rights of students with dis/abilities at their intersections and responsibilities of their parents to protect these rights over time, we do note the shift over time that has increasingly placed responsibility on students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents to protect their rights (Turnbull, 2005).

Second, we acknowledge that the material realities in which we find ourselves as humans are continuously shaped by the visible and invisible forces of capitalism and class as well as capital (Bourdieu, 1986) derived from our identities and backgrounds that include economic capital (class background), social capital (educational attainment and other status markers), and society’s labels based on singular categories of race/ethnicity, class, gender, etc. All of these intersect and create multiple forms of oppression and marginalization within educational contexts which are meant to provide access, participation, and positive outcomes and capital in the first place. The question that emerges from these two points is, what concrete steps we can take to change how we as teachers, students, and parents interact and work together in educational spaces.

Though not a final, or fully developed answer (if even one exists) we suggest that teachers, mentors, and all persons must challenge themselves to take up two mind-and-heartsets that will create repositioning of power, equity, and inclusive collaboration in this work:

  1. Consider equally, and perhaps foreground our treatment and relationships with others in a way that positions the person before the disability label[5] and the policy rather than the standard (or historical) practices of placing the student’s disability before a notion of students as an individual human being; and
  2. Work to intentionally operate from a value-neutral position[6] in which we withhold judgement and check our biases about those individuals with whom we work (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2011), and use a lens of empowerment evaluation centered on 10 core principles that include: “Improvement, Community ownership, Inclusion, Democratic participation, Social Justice, Community Knowledge, Evidence-based strategies, Capacity Building (we add in others/persons), Organizational learning, and Accountability” (Fetterman & Wanderson, 2004. p.30).

With these objectives in mind-and-heart we hope to begin creating space in communities about the potential for re-shaping how we work together towards both internal and external inclusion for ALL. We do want to point out, however, that given the status quo and the deep asymmetrical legacies of power-relations embedded within U.S. education, we also encourage the readers to continue to question what counts as “evidence” within positivist structures (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996) that attempt to “prescribe” “evidence-based” practices as “universal.”  Asking who benefits and who doesn’t and other questions of power, privilege, representation, and difference are not asked in assessing “strategies” or in other words “scripts” for human interactions within learning and teaching contexts. These “scripts” we submit further construct and impede authenticity, love and justice, and lead to further dehumanization and hence colonization. We believe this alternative mind-and-heart paradigm, as a way of being, doing, feeling and seeing, can contribute to a generative language and emotionality that humanizes and can work toward educational equity for ALL.


[1] We chose to use the term emergent bilingual instead of English Language Learner (ELL) given that ELL centers the power of English, and reproduces the hegemony of English, while the former term acknowledges not a deficit view or assumption of individuals learning another language which happens to be English and denotes a positive and robust repertoires of linguistic practices that the language learner can engage in learning beyond English.

[2] We chose to use the term culture-less and identity-less as opposed to “color-blind,” given that the latter is a species of ableist language since it connotes “blindness” as a deficit. In addition, these two words emphasize the role of culture and identity in all human activity, when often times these two words are only associated to particular ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Indigenous groups. When in fact, those at the center of power in the U.S., such as White, cisgendered, abled-psychoemotional and bodied, upper-class, English-only speaking, and those who embody other hegemonic identities, also have culture, but they might not be aware of it given that they are the center of power and these identities have become normalized and hence are at the center of the historical assimilationist project working to and through people who embody such positionalities and hence it is difficult to be introspective as a culture or an individual when you don’t question your culture or the role of power in your identities that are privileged within the larger social imaginary of what counts to be human.

[3] Given our Disability Studies in Education (DSE) dispositions, we add a dash to the term, “disabilities,” to underscore the fact our belief that people with dis/abilities have both abilities and impairments and in given our belief in the social model of disability we see dis/ability as an identity marker to be proud of, as opposed to something to diagnosis and remediate. The latter would be the medical model of disability.

[4] By emotional states, we don’t purely take a psychological stance on emotion, feelings, and affect, but one that is interdisciplinary in nature that understands emotional states as social constructions and sociocultural in nature as well.

[5] From a Disability Studies in Education approach, it is important to acknowledge that some people with disabilities would prefer a disability identity-first language and it is perfectly fine to put the disability identity first. This is so, given that disability is seen from a minority model approach where disability serves as a political identity in order to garner civil rights (Longmore, 2003).

[6] Nevertheless, we want to be explicit about the importance of understanding that we are not advocating for “objectivity” here, since we understand that there is no such thing. Moving beyond binaries of subjectivity and objectivity is important to build upon one’s inclusive critical thinking and acting within educational relationships and systems. In addition, as stated earlier in the blog, teaching and (un)learning is a political act and antithetical to neutrality.



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