Skip to main content Skip to main navigation Skip to footer content

COSS Chronicle

College of Social Sciences

Intersectional Feminism and Radically Accepting The Whole Self: An Interview With Author and Activist Ericka Huggins. 

by Isabel S. Dieppa                                                                                                                                                                                                             March 11, 2024

Ericka Huggins headshot

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate Women’s History Month, educator, author and activist from the Black Panther Party Ericka Huggins will be a guest speaker on the Fresno State campus in a one-night lecture sponsored by the Africana Studies Program. 

Huggins will speak on campus on March 11, at the Peters Educational Center Auditorium in the Student Recreation Center. Accompanying Huggins on stage will be Africana Studies Professor Nkenna Onwuzuruoha who will lead a discussion. 

The COSS Chronicle had the opportunity to speak to Huggins before her visit to Fresno State to talk about feminism, and what intersectional feminism means today. 

Feminism’s history and the original lack of inclusion

We can’t talk about Women’s History Month without talking about feminism. Feminism can be described as both empowering and polarizing. In the United States 61% of women say the word “feminist” describes them well according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center. While 45% of American women who participated in the same survey described the word as “polarizing.” 

“Intersectional feminism” didn't enter our vernacular until 1989 when American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term.  

Historically feminism hasn’t been seen as inclusive. The word feminist first appeared in the United States in 1910. Feminism in western history has typically excluded BIPOC women. One example is women’s suffrage. When suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls, New York to advocate for the right to vote, suffragists were solely focused on the rights of “white women” voters. Among attendees of the gathering at Seneca Falls was a small group of white men, one Black man –Frederick Douglass– and no Black women, none were invited. 

Women of color had to fight to be heard among the early first wave feminist movements. In May 1851, African American abolitionist Sojourner Truth delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a woman?”. Feminism without intersectionality left out large swaths of women for many years throughout our American history. 

Getting Intersectional

The term “intersectionality” is described by Merriam-Webster as “the complex way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

Huggins says without intersectionality we can’t thoroughly understand history, sociology, art, and various other forms of study and expression.   

Today intersectionality has found its way into our colleges and cultural conversations. 

The College of Social Sciences (COSS) offers many classes that are intersectional in approach. Overall the social sciences lend themselves very well to the study of intersectionality. When it comes to the study of intersectional feminism, COSS offers cross-listed courses like “African American Women”, a cross-listed class between Africana Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. According to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies chair Larissa Mercado-López, intersectional studies are core to Fresno State’s WGSS program, and other programs at COSS.  

Huggins agrees with the sentiment that an intersectional perspective must be present if we are going to talk about any subject in education, including feminism. 

How I understand it, it is the intersectionality that must be in any practice of feminism,” Huggins said. 

Huggins said one of the reasons why we use the term “intersectional” is because we are all intersectional beings. 

“If you say you are feminist, and that is all you are, you are missing a lot of your coinciding identities,” Huggins said. 

Intersectionality in education is learning about different people’s experiences from different perspectives and how those experiences and perspectives are shaped by inequalities, privilege, and oppression. Huggins says that intersectionality matters because we are all of our identities. 

“So it used to be in all the waves of feminism before now, before this wave, that feminism meant women, and there used to be a phrase: women and people of color. And when I saw that phrase I was so sad,” Huggins said. “I was saddened by it because I asked the question aloud to a friend who was with me when I heard it, does that mean there are no women and people of color?”

Understanding the term isn’t the only important factor when it comes to intersectional feminism. If we as a society are going to be intersectional feminists, Huggins says, education plays an important role. 

Huggins said Departments of Education need diverse perspectives on education. Understanding the history, culture and background help educators to include that intersectionality to their teaching.

In the 1970s Huggins created the teaching curriculum in Oakland schools when she ran the Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community Schools program. Her own intersectional experience informed her on how best to teach and include all students. 

It wasn’t just about the subject matter, it was also about recognizing the role society superimposed onto the students and how that played out in their education. 

“We had to say to the instructors we hired at Oakland Community Schools, ‘Call on the girls,’” Huggins said. “In math class, in science class, in any class. Make sure that you’re not dismissing them.”

Intersectionality includes other perspectives in the subject matter, and in the practice of who becomes the voice of and face of various social topics. This is true in both the classroom and in life as students become social thinkers. 

“The mind needs educating. The body needs to have respectful education. Our hearts need to be nourished. Our spirits need to be acknowledged,” Huggins said. 

When we acknowledge our intersectionality we give voice to all of our identities and allow our holistic selves to grow, learn, and contribute to the world. 

“It's important for us to take care of ourselves. Understanding all of this,” Huggins said. 

Huggins said she wants people to incorporate self care where we can accept all of our parts. To be our holistic intersectional selves, and to toss out the things that could be harmful, or at least recognize the parts of ourselves that could be harmful. 

“The kind of self care I'm talking about is to look at who you have been told you are. Review it, and start tossing out for yourself those things that no longer make sense or fit for you,” Huggins said.

An Interview with Ericka Huggins,
presented by the Africana Studies Program, 7 p.m. at the Peters Educational Center Auditorium in the Student Recreation Center. Professor Nkenna Onwuzuruoha will lead an interview with Huggins, an activist and former leader of the Black Panther Party, followed by a question-and-answer session facilitated by the Africana Studies Student Association. Contact: Meta Schettler at