Kimberlé Crenshaw honored with Gittler Prize

Scholar who coined 'intersectionality' visited Brandeis for a ceremony and lecture

Kimberle CrenshawPhoto/Mike Lovett

Kimberlé Crenshaw speaks to the crowd in Rapaporte Treasure Hall.

Social justice scholar and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw was honored with the Gittler Prize in a ceremony followed by a lecture on the Brandeis University campus Wednesday.

"I'm thrilled beyond measure to be with you today and to receive this honor. No one in their right mind goes into social justice research with an idea they will receive personal awards and recognition for it," Crenshaw said. "It was such a very pleasant surprise to receive this letter out of the blue saying my work is transformative. I am awed by the gift of affirmation and I am grateful to be counted among the legacies of Joseph and Toby Gittler, who made this award possible."

Crenshaw, co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum and professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, is an internationally-known authority in the areas of civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law. Her foundational work has had a galvanizing impact worldwide inside and outside the academy.

In a 1989 essay, Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” a concept that has advanced understanding of systemic injustice and social inequality. During her one-hour lecture to a capacity crowd inside Rapaporte Treasure Hall, Crenshaw delved into the role intersectionality plays today.

The framework of intersectionality is intended to allow for the examination of areas where social forces overlap or collide. While intersectionality has become a mainstream term, it was designed to examine the displacement of black women from social justice movements, Crenshaw said.

"I am not reclaiming intersectionality for the exclusive use of black women. Intersectionality is a prism that can be used to interrogate power and resistance across limitless contexts," Crenshaw said. "But resisting their (black women's) displacement in feminism and in anti-racism was the objective that ushered intersectionality’s arrival on to the discursive scene. So resisting the erasure of black women in intersectional discourse today is simply carrying forward its origins into a new era. There is no moment where we can wipe our hands collectively and say, 'Time to move on.'"

(Watch Kimberlé Crenshaw's lecture in its entirety)

Crenshaw's career has primarily been dedicated to dismantling structural inequality, particularly inequality imposed upon black women and girls. Recently this has included spearheading the “Why We Can’t Wait” campaign and co-authoring reports “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” and “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.”

"Silences have to be filled, witnesses need to come forward. Those who stand in the gaps have to be activated and find the space to tell their stories," Crenshaw said. "What happens when we take the time to actually do intersectional work, to create spaces for people to talk about what is falling through the cracks?"

"Intersectionality is a way forward if we are willing to face hard truths, to recover aspects of our history that have been forgotten, to sometimes be at risk of being told we are not good allies just because we insist on justice for all of us," she said.

Crenshaw was introduced by Professor of Anthropology Elizabeth Ferry after a welcoming from Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz, who presented her with the Gittler Medal.

"Dr. Crenshaw's contributions to society have changed the way people around the world think about identity, and the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to others," Liebowitz said.

Along with the lecture, the Gittler Prize features a three day residency, during which Crenshaw interacted with students, faculty and the Brandeis community. This year's residency also marked the establishment of the Gittler/Richman Library Corner located in Farber Library, which was celebrated with a ribbon cutting prior to Crenshaw's lecture Wednesday.

The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize was created in 2007 by the late Professor Joseph B. Gittler to recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations. It is named after Gittler and his mother, Toby. The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Endowed Fund at Brandeis University supports this annual award that includes a $25,000 prize and a medal. Previous Gittler Prize winners include Martha Minow (2015), Gustavo Gutiérrez (2014) and Patricia Hill Collins '69, PhD '84 (2013). The prize is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President of Brandeis University.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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