Assessing Intersectional Experiences
Thomas Kirnbauer – Allison BrckaLorenz & I were invited to write a brief titled, Assessing Intersectional Experiences: Where to Begin? in Assessment in Practice for the National Institute for Learning Outcome Assessment (NILOA). In this brief, we wrote about some of the challenges of assessing intersectional experiences based on our experiences working with NSSE data. Intersectionality is a critical framework that evaluates multiple aspects of a person’s identity within structures of inequality. We highlighted three challenges related to using an intersectional lens with quantitative survey data: getting started with the data, managing difficult data, and working with small populations.
Getting started with intersectional quantitative research may seem complicated because there are so many demographic and educational characteristics that play a role in how a student experiences higher education. The key is to start with small steps by first using variables that you are familiar with, and that requires a simple analysis. You must be mindful, however, not to treat variables in ways that can further marginalize students, such as collapsing multiple race/ethnic categories. Several additional challenges are related to managing the data, which depends on how the variables were collected. For example, a common approach for capturing student identities is to use a check-all-that-apply or write-in question to provide greater fluidity. Nonetheless, discrete and continuous data are more practical for conducting quantitative analysis. Close attention must be given to find the proper balance between the fluidity and practical considerations to conduct an inclusive assessment, such as including a write-in option for non-binary gender identities. For the third and final challenge, we wrote about how assessing intersectional experiences often involves working with small sample sizes. Assessment of small populations requires a researcher to be more flexible with statistical approaches (significance testing), be willing to report simple descriptive statistics, and use person-centered approaches. These can still be powerful tools to understand students’ experiences and tell their stories.
Higher education professionals often approach intersectional assessment with good intentions, but it may not be adequately understood or may feel overwhelming. We hope that our brief provides a useful starting point for those who are looking to conduct this type of assessment. It is crucial to remember that intersectional assessment is about both a person’s identity and the macro-level structures around them. See our complete brief here:
BrckaLorenz, A., & Kirnbauer, T. (2021, March). Assessing intersectional experiences: Where to begin? Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.