Document Type


Publication Date



School of Social Work


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Grant Abstract

Teaching Intersectionality to Improve MSW Students’ Understanding of Oppression and Privilege.

Background and Purpose:

There are growing calls to understand how clients’ multiple intersecting identities result in compounded disadvantage, which leads to disparate and disproportionate outcomes (CSWE, 2008; Ortega & Faller, 2011; Nadan, Spilsbury, & Korbin, 2015; NASW, 2015). Although social work students are required to learn about intersectionality (NASW, 2015), there is some evidence that blind spots remain with respect to the relationship between intersectionality, oppression, and privilege (Bronstein, Berman-Rossi, & Winfield, 2002; Bubar, Cespedes, & Bundy-Fazioli, 2016). In response, this project attempted to address this teaching and research gap by examining whether MSW students’ knowledge of intersectionality, systems of oppression, and privilege can improve after an enhanced lecture and modified assignments.


The sample consisted of 56 students enrolled in the Master of Social Work program at CSUSB in a micro social work practice course during the fall quarter 2019. The project utilized a pre-experimental research methodology consisting of a one-group pretest/posttest research design measuring participants’ responses using the Diversity and Oppression Scale (DOS) before and after the implementation of an enhanced teaching intervention (Windsor, Shorkey, & Battle, 2015). The DOS has 25 items on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree) measuring cultural diversity self-confidence, diversity and oppression, social worker/client congruence, and social worker responsibilities. The enhanced teaching intervention consisted of a lecture with up-to-date material connecting intersectionality, oppression, and privilege (See attached lecture slides), and an assignment assessing the main character of Good Will Hunting, which was modified by adding the following prompt: If Will would have been part of any other non-dominant group (e.g., person of color, LGBTQ, disabled, etc.), give an example of how his life might have been different.

Due to the small sample size 30 students with completed pretests and posttests, a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test was utilized comparing the pre and post-test sum scores on DOS Factor 2 (Diversity and Oppression), which were cut into tertiles measuring low knowledge about oppression (1-4), moderate knowledge (4-6), and high knowledge (7-8).


There was support that the teaching intervention was associated with increased knowledge on DOS Factor 2 among students in the intervention class (Z = 3.30, p < .001), and it had a moderate to strong effect size (r =.43). Qualitative results also indicated that some students felt that the TED talks and interactive exercises were also helpful in learning about intersectionality.


The findings are limited by the small sample size and lack of comparison group because not enough students completed the survey in other classes to make comparisons between classes feasible. Furthermore, although the DOS captured some knowledge of diversity and oppression, we did not measure how much knowledge related to intersectionality the students had prior to the intervention.

Conclusions and Implications

Findings suggest that enhanced teaching including pre-lecture activities, interactive lectures, and modified assignments may improve knowledge of diversity and oppresion among MSW students. In addition, several participants commented on the usefulness of media such as TED talks and Youtube videos as well as interactive exercises to facilitate discussions of intersectionality. Futures studies need larger samples & comparison groups and should test different types of delivery of lecture content.



The attached poster and lecture slides were completed as part of the 2019-20 Summer Institute and Faculty Learning Community Grant focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom in collaboration with Dr. Rigaud Joseph.

Included in

Social Work Commons