Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellow

Document Date: February 23, 2007

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw “It has been wonderful having Kim Crenshaw
work with WRP to further develop our efforts
to link gender discrimination with the impact of
racial injustice and poverty and to seek positive
change on behalf of the most marginalized
women. Her brilliant ideas — both in terms of
substance and process — greatly contributed
to our success.”

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw has been an Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellow at the ACLU since February 2005; working primarily at the National Office. Crenshaw is a professor of law at Columbia and UCLA Law Schools. The groundbreaking work for which she is best known explores the many ways in which various forms of discriminations can intersect, creating special vulnerabilities for some that are not readily identifiable within traditional equality law. She coined the term “intersectionality” to highlight the overlapping vulnerabilities that are at play in shaping the life chances of some of society’s most vulnerable populations: women who are poor, of color, or who are undocumented. Intersectionality is particularly germane in the areas of employment discrimination, violence against women, and criminal justice, areas of particular interest to the Women’s Rights Project.

Recently, Crenshaw has been active in reframing contemporary conceptions of discrimination and equal opportunity with a special focus on affirmative action, and in building productive exchanges between academic/research communities and frontline advocates. The Glasser Fellowship has given her the opportunity to pursue these interests with WRP and the ACLU Racial Justice Program. Two of her collaborations with WRP have been particularly productive. Crenshaw and WRP participated in a conference organized by Manhattan Borough President C.Virginia Fields that reviewed the consequences of New York City’spolicies mandating arrest under certain circumstances where domestic assaults have occurred. Asked to do the keynote for this conference, Crenshaw worked with WRP staff interns to compile existing information about the effects of these policies across various groups of women. Applying an intersectional lens to the question, it was apparent that such policies warranted a closer look in light of the unintended differential consequences for women of color and immigrant women. Some of the data suggest that these women were themselves more likely to be arrested under mandatory arrest laws, and that these laws did not contribute to their increased safety. WRP staff helped frame the dialogue around these important questions and facilitated discussion at the conference, held at Columbia Law School. The conference participants called for better access to information from police departments in order to accurately assess the impact of these laws on all populations.

A collaboration with Crenshaw and Eve Ensler resulted in an important WRP event, “Any One of Us: Words from Prison.” This event, co-sponsored by WRP and the NYCLU, was performed at Lincoln Center in New York City in June. Crenshaw and Ensler had sought other collaborative opportunities since Crenshaw wrote and performed a piece in the Harlem, New York production of “The Vagina Monologues,” which was featured in the documentary,Until The Violence Stops. That opportunity came with the creation of V-Day’s two-week festival focusing on violence against women. Violence is an often-underappreciated risk factor leading to the incarceration of women; it remains one of the reasons that women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. The goal of the event was to bring much-needed attention to the connection between violence against women and incarceration, and to highlight the need for both those interested in working against violence and those advocating for alternatives to incarceration to focus on these intersections in their work. WRP’s expertise in domestic violence and inwomen’s incarceration placed it in a unique position to provide a series of snapshots revealing how women often become entrapped by a variety of factors which, left unchecked, could lead to their incarceration. In addition to revealing how ‘any one of us’ could be caught up in this net of violence, WRP offered a range of reforms and actions that concerned individuals could engage in to make a difference.

Crenshaw also sought opportunities for her Columbia students to benefit from her association with the ACLU through her course on Social Justice Litigation. WRP along with other ACLU projects provided externship opportunities for students in Crenshaw’s seminar. The seminar was designed as a development opportunity for students who are interested in pursuing careers advancing civil rights and civil liberties. WRP provided exciting opportunities for Crenshaw’s students to contribute to a range of WRP’s projects while simultaneously exploring the broader challenges and opportunities facing social justice advocates in class.

Although Crenshaw concludes the Glasser Fellowship in February, she looks forward to building on the opportunities that the Fellowship has provided and to continuing her closeworking relationship with the Women’s Rights Project.

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