I am a white, heterosexual, temporarily non-disabled, middle-class woman. I am not religious, although I was raised in a household with one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent. My ethnic background includes Irish, Ukrainian, English, Austrian, and Russian ancestry. Each of these dimensions of my identity impact my experiences, and they intersect in various ways. The students I work with also have multiple intersecting identities that can impact their lives and experiences in and outside of college. The ways in which identities intersect is immensely complex, so it can be useful to employ theory and research to help me simplify the complexities. In the end, however, each individual’s identities and life experiences will determine the intersectionality for that individual.
Several theories that we have studied in the CSSA program integrate various aspects of identity development in order to help make the concept of intersectionality less complex and offer a framework within which to understand working productively with students. The theories that resonate with me that tackle integrating various dimensions of identity are Baxter Magolda’s (2001) theory of self-authorship and Schlossberg’s (1984) transition theory. Although there are others I could mention, these two help me to understand integrated student identity and development more than others.
Baxter Magolda’s (2001) theory of self-authorship holistically integrated identity development with cognitive and interpersonal development, placing individuals in context. Many student development theories that we examined in our coursework looked at one of these aspects in isolation. Baxter Magolda (2001) researched many young adults in a longitudinal study that examined self-authorship: how the individuals constructed and reflected on their internal beliefs and world views, their personal identities, and their relationships with others in order to make informed decisions and judgements. Baxter Magolda (2001) identified three questions emergent in the stories she heard from her research subjects: “How do I know?” “Who am I?” and “What relationships do I want with others?” These questions brought aspects of epistemology, psychology, and sociology into relationship. Challenging higher education “to help young adults make the transition from their socialization by society to their role as members and leaders in society’s future” (2001, p. 25), Baxter Magolda (2001) saw self-authorship as vital to individual development and to society’s development. In the context of intersectionality, the concept of self-authorship pertains to all people in that if the socialization they have received since childhood is challenged in college, then the capacity will exist for development that incorporates and respects diverse other beliefs, identities, and cultures. The implications for growing this capacity in human beings includes reduced conflict on a large scale. If those in the future who are in power have also incorporated various belief systems and cultural identities into themselves, if they respect diverse others, they will look for nonviolent ways to mange conflict and difference.
Schlossberg’s (1984) transition theory examined the aspects of transitions to simplify and categorize the process in order to help people in “moving in”, “moving through”, and “moving out” of a transition with more ease. After developing the theory over a lifetime of work, Goodman, Schlossberg, and Anderson (2006) defined the concept of transition as “any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles” (p.33). Three types of transitions occur: anticipated transitions, events that are expected, unanticipated transitions, events that are not expected, and nonevents, events that are expected but do not happen (Goodman et al., 2006). The researchers developed four factors, the 4 S’s, that they maintained helped an individual cope with a transition: situation, self, support, and strategies. Examining several factors within each of these S’s, a helper can identify resources and tools to ease the transition. Developed as a theory for counselors, transition theory has helped me to break down the many transitions that a particular student may be going through, including the transitions of entering and leaving college. Identity development is a piece of this theory, wrapped up in the self, but this theory makes clear that the self does not exist in isolation; the situation, support and strategies that are used to move through a transition all contribute to the result. I will go into more depth on transitions in my Competency C, Number 4 post.
These two theories cannot explain every intersecting identity of every student I will encounter. And this is why theory is useful only to a point. I use these theories to help me simplify, but no individual student’s life is simple. So, I return to the counseling micro-skills I learned in TCE 530, Fundamentals of Counseling, and I listen actively, reflect feeling and meaning back to the student, and support each student in identity development using all the tools at my disposal.