Towards Action in Community Psychology: Using Intersectionality to Promote Youth Development

Photograph of the Authors

Submitted by Magdalena Moskal and Wendy Chu

This piece was originally published in The Community Psychologist (TCP)
Winter 2023 Volume 56 Number 1. All TCP columns are available online, at

Originating from the work of Black and Indigenous feminist scholars, intersectionality theory states that individuals have social identities positioned within multiple systems of power and oppression that can be experienced simultaneously, and that these interactions between identities and systems inherently shape our lived experiences (Crenshaw, 1989). More recently, intersectionality has been used in various disciplines such as legal studies, psychology, and public health as a tool for analysis, action, and liberation to more comprehensively understand how power shapes experiences and to guide efforts to address inequalities (May, 2015). Intersectionality theory is particularly relevant in working with youth given that they are systematically disenfranchised due to their age, that the period of youth offers an opportune time to promote leaders advocating for social justice, and that structural systems affecting youth can benefit from critical examination to inform more equitable systems.

Intersectionality theory is relevant and valuable to youth-focused community psychologists for several reasons. As a field, community psychology (CP) examines how individuals interact with the settings and contexts they are embedded within (Kloos et al., 2021). Thus, understanding how structures and systems of power operate on youths’ social identities complements CP perspectives and may inform more inclusive understandings of youth experiences. Core values of CP, including respect for human diversity and social justice, also overlap with those of intersectionality theory (Kloos et al., 2021). In youth work, community psychologists must be attuned to experiences and factors that shape positive youth development (Evans et al., 2007), such as how community oppression inhibits well-being promotion or how today’s global syndemic of COVID-19 and racism impact youth outcomes (Moore et al., 2021).
To guide CP towards collective social action, we briefly describe how intersectionality can be leveraged in CP research, practice, and policy to promote youth development and active participation in social change.

Research. CP research should include youth with intersectional marginalized identities as agentic to the research process. Practices such as youth participatory action research (YPAR) specifically attend to addressing inequities and use methods such as photography, storytelling, and theater to uncover how youth make meaning of their intersectional identities, experiences, and motivations for community action (Ozer et al., 2020).

Practice. In practice, community psychologists should consider intersectional notions of power sharing. For example, youth-adult partnerships (Y-AP) address hierarchical power structures by involving multiple youth and adults collectively and democratically in social justice promotion and change efforts (Zeldin et al., 2013). Y-AP in practice also facilitates positive youth development such as agency, identity development, and connectedness through authentic collaboration with adults and their community (Zeldin et al., 2013).

Policy. Community psychologists can leverage intersectionality theory in youth-centered policy efforts by critically understanding how policies contribute to youth inequity and social change (Garcia & Zajicek, 2022). Moreover, community psychologists can involve youth in policy evaluation and advocacy to support their positive development as leaders in advancing social action in their own communities (Barnett, & Brennan, 2006).

With the current social-political context, it is critical for youth-focused community psychologists to reflect on the use of intersectionality. Intersectionality theory provides a means to center youth voice and experience toward transformative social change through CP research, practice, and policy efforts.

Barnett, R. V., & Brennan, M. A. (2006). Integrating youth into community development: Implications for policy planning and program evaluation. Journal of Youth Development, 1(2), 5–19.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 140, 139–167.

Evans, S. D., & Prilleltensky, I. (2007). Youth and democracy: Participation for personal, relational, and collective well‐being. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(6), 681–692.

Garcia, T. C., & Zajicek, A. (2022). Incorporating intersectionality in public policy: A systematic literature review. Humanity & Society, 46(2), 271–290.

Kloos, B., Hill, J., Thomas, E., Case, A. D., Scott, V. C., & Wandersman, A. (2021). Community psychology: Linking individuals and communities. American Psychological Association.

May, V. (2015). Pursuing intersectionality, Unsettling dominant imaginaries. Routledge.

Moore, K., Hanckel, B., Nunn, C., & Atherton, S. (2021). Making sense of intersecting crises: Promises, challenges, and possibilities of intersectional perspectives in youth research. Journal of Applied Youth Studies, 4(5), 423–428.

Ozer, E. J., Abraczinskas, M., Duarte, C., Mathur, R., Ballard, P. J., Gibbs, L., Olivas, E. T., Bewa, M. J., & Afifi, R. (2020). Youth participatory approaches and health equity: Conceptualization and integrative review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 66(3–4), 267–278.

Zeldin, S., Christens, B. D., & Powers, J. L. (2013). The psychology and practice of youth-adult partnership: Bridging generations for youth development and community change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51(3–4), 385–397.

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