Colleges Do Not Do Enough to Protect Students of Color

Imagine this: you are a college student in a creative writing class. Your (White) professor has asked everyone in the class to write a short story about what family means to them and how their family has impacted their worldview. After the professor asks your class if anyone would like to share their story aloud, a Black student states that they would like to share their story about how their father made them into the person they are today. Before they start reading their piece, the professor says, “Yes, absent fathers can be so influential in developing resilience. I’m excited to hear your piece.” The Black student didn’t say anything about the nature of their relationship with their father. However the White professor assumed that the student’s father was absent because of the harmful stereotype that most Black fathers are absent fathers or “deadbeat dads.” The Black student, now feeling judged and unsafe in the classroom, no longer feels comfortable sharing their piece, or even being in the class. Because of the professor’s position of power at the college, no one in the class feels comfortable standing up for the student and telling the professor that what they said was hurtful.

Microaggressions, defined by Sue et al. in their 2019 article Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Microintervention Strategies for Targets, White Allies and Bystanders, are “every day slights, insults, putdowns, invalidations, and offensive behaviors that people of color experience in daily interactions with generally well-intentioned White Americans who may be unaware that they have engaged in racially demeaning ways toward target groups.” Although explicit acts of racism still occur on a regular basis in our society, much of the racism experienced by people of color on a daily basis are different types of microaggressions. Microaggressions are not blatant like macroaggressions, or acts of explicit racism, are. Because of this, it may be difficult for people who either aren’t targets of microaggressions (namely, people of color) or aren’t educated in exactly what microaggressions entail to be able to identify microaggressions and know how to intervene when they witness one.

The microaggression in the hypothetical scenario may still be considered to be obviously racist to many people. A common example of a microaggression in the classroom that may be more subtle is a White professor constantly mixing up the names of the only two Black students in the room. Many people may remain silent after they witness a microaggression because they do not know how to address it. How are students expected to be willing to defend themselves (or their peers) to their professors if their professors are in positions of power at the university? They could report the professor’s microaggression to the university using a Title IX form, (which Sue et al.’s article recommends as a “microintervention”, or an intervention on microaggressions), however, because microaggressions aren’t explicit acts of racism, universities may not recognize them as actions that professors need to be held accountable for. Given this, how are students of color supposed to feel comfortable reporting or empowered to report microaggressions to their universities if they know that their universities will not defend their students?

This question was brought up in a recent class discussion that I was involved in during which a student found my college’s faculty Code of Conduct online and pointed out that there was no mention of microaggressions anywhere in the document. Another student made the comment that tenured professors may know that they “can say and do whatever they want” because they know that they won’t get fired. So what is the point of reporting a microaggression to the college if the college won’t do anything to make the student safer in the classroom?

In our class discussion, some people shared that microaggression and microintervention training for both students and faculty could be helpful in both preventing microaggressions in the first place and making students feel more empowered to confront them. Other people stated that the college should amend the faculty Code of Conduct to include clear policies that outline what microaggressions are and how the college would handle a professor who commits one. It is clear that colleges should be doing more to address microaggressions in order to better protect students of color, but it feels as if colleges are instead choosing to protect their faculty instead. How can colleges protect students from experiencing microaggressions and how can we demand that they do?

4 thoughts on “Colleges Do Not Do Enough to Protect Students of Color”

  1. Hey, I think this post is really good and interesting. I too think that microaggressions go by unnoticed and not talked about too much and believe that colleges need to shift from protecting faculty to protecting students. Maybe universities can have a more rigorous implicit bias training for their faculty.

  2. I really liked your blog post and your use of anecdotes. To answer your question, its more like how do we get college’s to care about the safety and well-being of students of color. A lot more events have brought this reality to light, but colleges, especially colleges funded by and supported by White individuals, would tend to see people of color as just diversity statistics to fill their quota. I would like to think that putting people of color into positions at these colleges in order to make administrative changes and place power in the students of color’s hands.

  3. I really enjoyed your quoting of the article by Sue in how if people don’t know what microaggressions are they don’t know how to react or that a reaction is necessary. I think with your proposed solutions training on microaggressions in colleges can be beneficial. If all students on a campus have training and know about microaggressions the student body is able to defend peers and call out microaggressions against professors (or other peers). I also really enjoyed your mention of amending faculty code of conduct to stop professors from being able to “say what ever they want” and make them held accountable for their actions. Colleges are for the students education and professors should not be changing the students success in a class based on microaggressions.

  4. One key aspect that you mentioned in your post is the lack of knowledge/tools to address microaggressions which I think was important to share. It’s vital that students and faculty both receive training to recognize and address these issues when they occur. I like the idea of a comprehensive approach to this issue where education on microaggressions can help prevent them and empower others to respond if they occur.

    I am also really fond of the idea of amending the faculty code of conduct to explicitly include some policies about microaggressions. Having it there as a cushion for other with types out consequences would be helpful.

    Great blog post.


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