The Importance of Intersectionality in Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: We Are More Than You Think We Are

By Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., coeditor of Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students

The Importance of Intersectionality in Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: We Are More Than You Think We AreAs educators working with gifted students, we have to be as cognizant of our students’ affective needs as we are of their intellectual and academic needs. We realize that our students are generally more sensitive, more intense, more empathetic than others. Our interactions with our gifted students broaden our understanding of their diverse social backgrounds, interests, and needs.

Gifted students, like all students, have multiple and overlapping identities that result from the varied social constructs that affect their lives: cultural or ethnic group, family and community, how society perceives them, gender, income level, academic strengths, interests, language, and more. This concept is called intersectionality. Intersectionality, as a term, was coined by law student Kimberlé Crenshaw as she examined the impact of the intersection between race, gender, politics, and the law.

Navigating Multiple Worlds

As we aim to improve how we address the needs of underrepresented students in gifted education, it is becoming more apparent that viewing the many worlds our students navigate daily is critical in establishing positive, affirming, and empowering relationships with them. Underrepresented gifted students are at a disadvantage in our school environments because they are typically not identified early, do not have a voice in creating programs to meet their varied needs, and do not have equitable access to gifted education and advanced learner programs when compared to their majority culture, more affluent peers. One of the reasons for this lack of identification and understanding is that educators who work with them are unfamiliar with the concerns and issues of their families and communities; how society views them; their ethnic and cultural differences, norms, and traditions; their gender concerns; their language differences; and other social constructs with which they identify that shape their identities. The graphic suggests some of the multiple social identities that intersect to form the individual identity of underrepresented gifted students.

intersectionality graphic

Suggested Strategies for Educators and Schools

Educators must become more familiar with the concept of intersectionality, how it impacts the daily lives of their underrepresented gifted learners, and how those students navigate their multiple worlds. To do this, I recommend a few strategies:

  • Increase opportunities for students to honestly share their life stories in safe spaces and with culturally sensitive adults.
  • Allow gifted students choices for selection of course, completion of classwork, or end-of-year projects.
  • Make space for underrepresented gifted students on advisory councils, school boards, and other policy-making committees.
  • Give students agency and voice in the creation of instructional designs that meet their interests, strengths, and needs.
  • Encourage students to share their views regarding the challenges and benefits of gifted education services.
  • Encourage teachers, counselors, and other adults to share their cultural stories with colleagues and students.
  • Host gifted programming and information sessions in the communities where your students reside.
  • Ensure that gifted education training sessions are provided in the first languages of your underrepresented gifted communities.
  • Solicit mentors from targeted underrepresented committees to assist with student support.

These suggestions are only few of the many that may assist with improving educator and student relationships and that use intersectionality as a lens through which to create more accessible and equitable gifted education services. More specific recommendations can be found in the upcoming book Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students. When educators view their underrepresented gifted students as complex and multilayered social beings, they increase their potential for improving their students’ social, intellectual, academic, and psychosocial outcomes.

Crenshaw, K. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Anti-Racist Politics.” University Chicago Legal Forum (1989) vol. 1: 139–167.

Davis, J.L. & Douglas, D., eds. Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2021.

 Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., is a career educator with over 40 years of experience as a practitioner, scholar, author, and consultant with an expertise in equity in gifted education and cultural competency education. Dr. Davis has served in local, regional, and state leadership positions in gifted education. She also served as an at-large member of the National Association for Gifted Children Board of Directors. A graduate of the College of William & Mary, Dr. Davis holds both master’s and doctorate degrees in gifted education and has led professional learning workshops, appeared on podcasts, and been a long-term program consultant, and served as a keynote speaker and distinguished guest lecturer across the nation, in South Africa, Dubai, Turkey, and the Caribbean. Dr. Davis has published numerous articles, technical reports, and book chapters related to achieving equity in gifted education. She is also author of two books: the award-winning Bright, Talented & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners and Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future, co-edited with Dr. James Moore III. Dr. Davis is currently the Special Populations columnist for Teaching for High Potential and serves on the Gifted Child Today advisory board. Dr. Davis is co-founder with other equity colleagues of the Jenkins Scholars program, a national program developed to recognize highly gifted Black students. She lives near Richmond, VA.

Empowering Underrepresented Gifted StudentsJoy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., is the coeditor Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students

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