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Microaggressions, Intersectional Assumptions, and the Unnoticed Burdens of Racialized College Life for Brown and Black Students at a PWI

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Abigail Reiter, Ph.D.
Abigail Reiter, Ph.D.
  •  Abigail Reiter, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke
  • Miranda Reiter, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Abstract

While American education is often considered a meritocratic institution, race acts as a structuring agent (Delgado and Stefancic 2001), creating palpably different race-based experiences and outcomes. Not only is it important to uncover the complicated ways in which race and racism are manifested in educational settings, but it is also necessary to understand the varied and disregarded effects that nuanced forms of racism have on brown and black students.

Using Critical Race Theory Methodology and relying on the counter-narratives of 31 students of color at a white university in the US Southeast, this study finds that respondents are emotionally, academically, and socially affected by microaggressions, or subtle and overlooked forms of racism and gendered racism in various campus settings. Through subtle cues, brown and black students are reminded constantly that their race matters, and that it is a cue for countless academic and behavioral assumptions that they must continually work to disprove. Respondents discuss social and cognitive burdens associated with navigating through white spaces as brown and black people while whites are privileged to act in and experience college as “just students.” Findings indicate a need for effective awareness efforts to replace superficial ones that reinforce inequities.

Keywords: microaggressions, intersectionality, racism, education, stereotypes, Critical Race Theory