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How Does Intersectionality Relate To Mental Health? A Look Inside The Dorm’s 2022 Intersectionality Symposium

Est. reading time: 4 mins
Posted Under: Interviews

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


This year our community hosted its first Intersectionality Symposium, an event exploring identity and allyship. Through two days of speakers, workshops and group sessions we expanded our understanding of intersectionality and how it relates to mental health.

In response to the enormous success of the event, we spoke with our NYC Director Brittany Becker, LMHC and Senior Therapist Alexa Connors, LMSW about how the symposium came to be, and why it was so important to our community.

Primer | What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a framework that helps us examine inequality through the multiple identities that each of us hold. The term was coined by civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as a way of explaining how race, class, gender, sexuality and other individual characteristics come into play with how we experience society, and how others perceive us.

By understanding the “intersecting” components of our identity more clearly, we can move through the world with greater self-awareness and compassion.  In short, examining intersectionality improves our mental health as a result of strengthening our understanding of ourselves and bonds as a community.

“Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw | Columbia Law

Team Interview | How Does Intersectionality Relate to Mental Health?

We spoke with Dorm team members to better understand intersectionality and how it comes into play with improving our community’s communication and wellness:

Why do you think intersectionality is an important part of community life at The Dorm?

The intricacies of one’s identities affect them on a day-to-day basis. 

Operating in a system where we are only recognized for one part of our identity is invalidating and oppressive. At The Dorm, it is our belief and value to create the most inclusive, engaging and progressive community we can. 

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

The Dorm is here.

Can you explain the conception of the Intersectionality Symposium? 

Brittany Becker, LMHC: The Intersectionality Symposium was a client-inspired event. Clients had presented to their teams that they had been experiencing micro-aggressions directly and indirectly, and they wanted to explore how to make our community more educated, aware and open to change in our group sessions and in the Clubhouse. We wanted to find a way to consistently put the work into creating a better sense of belonging and safety within our community.

The symposium turned out to be an experiential, educational event that raised awareness on how our different privileges affect how we relate to the greater community as a whole. We wanted to dedicate this two-day event to challenging social inequity, and to embracing inclusion in all of our operations in practical, consistent ways.

“Operating in a system where we are only recognized for one part of our identity is invalidating and oppressive. At The Dorm, it is our belief and value to create the most inclusive, engaging and progressive community we can.”

Associate Director of Learning and Development, Andrew Vispo, LMFT

What were the team’s main takeaways from the symposium?

After the event, a colleague and I said to each other, “When is the next one? And if there isn’t one, we should plan it immediately.” I’m positive that conversation was held throughout the whole community. 

I think those two days gave us a platform for community members to be vulnerable about uncomfortable topics to discuss. We were able to openly examine the storylines around our personal privilege, and set intentions for navigating those moving forward. 

Alexa Connors, LMSW: After the symposium we also got a ton of good feedback from clients. 

One of the things we spoke about was revamping our group therapy norms and creating more signage for inclusivity around The Dorm.

Our team met to take into account the various presentations and workshops from the event, and consider feedback from clients. We then met to re-design our group therapy norms, a list of expectations and intentions we set for our daily group therapy sessions with clients:

The Dorm Group Norms: 

  1. Honor individual differences. Individuals do not represent their entire identity group.
  2. Maintain confidentiality. Names and stories stay in the room; learning leaves.
  3. You’re the keeper of your own story. Use “I” statements.
  4. Engage in active listening. Please keep technology out of sight while we meet.
  5. Intent vs. Impact: Assume positive intent; acknowledge impact (“call-ins” are encouraged).
  6. Employ “Both/And” thinking. Make space for more than one truth.
  7. Be fully present. Please let the group know if you’re going to step out of the room or be off camera.
  8. No vaping or substance use in session.
  9. Make space/take space. Be aware of making space for all to share.
  10. Mind the time:
    • Show up on time to group (be mindful of the 10-minute rule).
    • Leave enough time in between groups.
  11. Expect discomfort.
  12. Cultivating a safe space is our priority. There will be no tolerance of micro-aggressions, harassment or threats to self or others. 

How does intersectionality relate to life outside of The Dorm?

The Dorm does not exist in a bubble. Our community members commute, attend college classes, have jobs and interact within different levels of society. It is imperative that we are practicing what we do internally, externally. 

The current events of the past few years have also taught us that the more instances of intersectionality in one’s life, the more likely one is to be a victim of violence and systematic oppression. We all need to remain cognizant of the different privileges we carry and use those privileges to empower others in the community. 

For people interested in exploring intersectionality further, where is a good place to start? 

Kimberlé Crenshaw is a pioneer and advocate in social justice and civil rights. She coined the term intersectionality in 1989 as a way of looking at inequity through multiple lenses. I found the following Ted Talk to be very informative, and she also regularly posts resources on her Instagram account.

Thank you everyone!

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