Applying Intersectionality to Address Racial and Spatial Postsecondary Disparities—Rural Latino Youth




Sansone, Vanessa A.

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SAGE Publications


Background/Context: There is a growing concern about the ways in which geography affects the educational opportunity for America’s rural youth. Most research on this population has assumed that rural America is primarily White and that rural college access is stratified by an individual’s ability to complete the application process. Such approaches ignore race and the interplay among geography, admissions practices, and individual behavior and decision-making. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study examines the postsecondary experiences and opportunity structures for Latino youth living in rural Latino communities in South Texas. The purpose of this study is to understand quantitively and qualitatively how the geographic context of a predominantly rural Latino area shaped the college-going process and pathway decisions for the Latino youth living within these rural communities. To critically understand beyond the individual and learn about how systemic conditions in rural Latino communities can usher in (dis)advantages in their postsecondary experiences and sort students into pathways, this study employed Núñez’s (2014) multilevel model of intersectionality framework. As such, this study asked the following research questions: (1) What is the college access experience for Latino youth living in rural communities in South Texas? (2) In what ways, if any, do rural Latino youth describe how their rural geography structures (in) equalities in the college-going process? (3) How are rural Latino youths’ college access and opportunity structured, and does this differ from other geographic contexts? Research Design: Using a three-phase mixed-methods design (QUAL→quan), this study interviewed 101 Latino youth living in three different rural areas in South Texas toward the end of their senior year of high school. The quantitative component of the study used descriptive and spatial data to further expand on, complement, and confirm the intersectional findings in the qualitative data. In the last phase, data were integrated, and inferences were made about how college access opportunities are structured for Latino youth living in rural communities. Conclusions/Recommendations: Using an intersectionality framework, this study identified several ways in which the geography of rural Latino communities is structured that render and perpetuate inequities and disadvantages for Latino youth pursuing college. Rural Latino youth lived in communities that systemically experienced higher poverty, lower median incomes, and less access to resources and opportunities as compared with (sub)urban metro areas. Most students discussed how these geographic conditions played a role in the ways that bounded the opportunities they experienced during their college-going process and their decision to enroll at a college within close proximity to their rural region. This study has implications for how intersectionality frames can expand our understanding of the unique characteristics of rural regions that creates both opportunities and challenges for rural Latino youth pursuing postsecondary opportunities. This is significant given that most higher education researchers, policymakers, and practitioners conflate the racial/ethnic diversity of rural areas with whiteness and being White. In doing so, they overlook the presence of Latinos in rural areas and ignore their intersecting assets and challenges, hindering effective policy solutions that can better support historically marginalized students.


© Teachers College 2023


rural Latinos, rural education, college access, intersectionality, critical race theory, mixed methods


Sansone, V. A. (2023). Applying Intersectionality to Address Racial and Spatial Postsecondary Disparities—Rural Latino Youth. Teachers College Record, 125(5), 59-75.


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies