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February 20, 2022
February 20, 2022
July 20, 2022
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions
Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, and environmental degradations with detrimental cumulative effects on marginalized people. Microaggressions can create a hostile and stressful environment for college students (Smith et al., 2011). Students who experience an unwelcoming classroom climate are at risk for psychological stress, decreased self-esteem, reduced participation, diminished academic performance, and decreased persistence (Hotchkins & Dancy, 2015).
There are three primary types of microaggressions that occur in classrooms: microinsults, microinvalidations, and microassaults (Sue et al, 2008). Microinsults are verbal and behavioral expressions that demean a person’s identity (e.g. telling Black students they sound so articulate). Microinvalidations occur when the lived experiences of marginalized peoples are negated, invalidated, or diminished (e.g. claiming to be “colorblind”). Microassaults are more overt, constituting verbal and non-verbal attacks and avoidant behaviors (e.g. not wanting to sit next to a student of color). Unfortunately, nearly one-third of college students have experienced microaggressions (Boysen, 2012). Microaggressions are often elusive and vague, making it difficult for college students to identify when they occur. However, due to the subtleties of microaggressions, students often doubt their own perceptions. The purpose of this research was to study the marginalization tendencies of engineering teams in engineering classrooms. As part of a larger, multi-year qualitative study, we interviewed 30 students who identified as marginalized and had experienced microaggressions. We found that when students doubted their perceptions, they often identified the microaggressions they experienced as either jokes (e.g. “well I think he was just joking”) or insincere concern (e.g. “it’s hard to know if they really cared or not”).
“It’s just jokes”. Throughout the interviews, Black and Brown students, particularly women, noted that the White men in the group often made comments related to their gender and engineering. Multiple women reported that White men on their teams commented about their lack of make-up and unwillingness to “dress-up” for the team. Yet when reflecting on these interactions the women remarked that “maybe they were just joking.” Several women also shared that the White men on the team would tease them about being an engineering by saying things like “your personality is girl engineer” or “who knew girls could be so good at engineering.” However, the women responded to these comments by stating that these men “are our friends, so they don’t really believe those things.”
Insincere concern. Black and Brown students reported that their interactions with white students often included insincere concern for the workload of Brown Black students. Brown and Black students reported that their White peers often excluded them from group interactions and when confronted, the White peers often indicated Brown and Black students were too busy. Ashley (all names as pseudonyms), a Black woman, shared, “I was given a task and a deadline. When I emailed my group, before the deadline, I was told, ‘oh, we assumed you wouldn’t have time to do this so we already did it.” Rob, a Black male, shared that a White teammate said, “We’ll give you something easy so you can stay caught up.” When Jessica confronted her team about not communicating with her, they said to her “We kinda felt that with you being a Black woman and all, you’d be busy all the time.” The challenge with insincere concern is that students struggled to know if they should confront peers on their seemingly racist behavior or accept that they were legitimately concerned. Donna was quick to point out this dilemma in her interview. As she shared, “When I brought these concerns to my friends they said, that doesn’t seem racist. And I replied back, it’s not that the only options are you’re either racist or you’re not--there are a lot of in-between racists!”
In this paper, we will further elaborate on these forms of justification and highlight how instructors and students can recognize these forms of microaggressions when observing students in teams.
References Boysen, G. A. (2012). Teacher and student perceptions of microaggressions in college classrooms. College Teaching, 60(3), 122-129. Hotchkins, B. K., & Dancy, T. (2015). Black Male Student Leaders in Predominantly White Universities: Stories of Power, Preservation, and Persistence. Western Journal of Black Studies, 39(1), 30-44. Smith, W.A., Hung, M., & Franklin, J.D. (2011). Racial battle fatigue and the “mis”education of Black men: Racial microaggressions, societal problems, and environmental stress. Journal of Negro Education, 80(1), 63-82. Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., & Holder, A. (2008). Racial microaggressions in the life experience of Black Americans. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(3), 329-336.
Masta, S., & Dickerson, D., & Pawley, A. L., & Ohland, M. W. (2022, February), The Minimization of Microaggressions in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39145
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