by The Juniatian Editorial Board
Hearing comments like “You are so pretty!” or “You speak very articulately” can be wonderful compliments for anyone to hear, but when those same comments get stated as “You are so pretty…for a black girl!” or “You speak so articulately…for a black person”, then that quickly turns from a compliment, into a micro aggression.
Throughout most of this semester, there has been more conversation about race and inequality, seeming a little more than in the past. The reason being that this conversation has also taken place on other college campuses around the country. People feel that “underrepresented” students are being unacknowledged and constantly reminded that they are different from the rest of their student body.
Micro aggressions play a big role in how a student of diversity can feel isolated and misunderstood by their peers. Dictionary.com defines a micro aggression as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at marginalized or other non-dominant groups that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces stereotypes.” Even though they are sometimes unintentional, micro aggressions can make anyone feel like they stick out like a sore thumb and that tends to make students of color feel a sense of discomfort and isolation.
Statements such as “Do you know how to twerk?” even as unintentional as it may be, is being asked based off of a stereotype. When people are asked questions based on their race, it can leave a bigger impact on that person, regardless of whether or not the question or comment had any wrong intentions.
The impact micro aggressions can have are unnoticeable most of the time, and even though a comment is “micro”, the more those comments are made over time, those “micro” comments can become huge mountains that someone, sometimes unknowingly, gets buried under. This tends to take a toll on someone’s mental and physical health. An article written by Debra Roberts, PhD, and Sherry Molock, PhD, states that “one of the most insidious features of micro aggressions is that sometimes it is hard to confront because it is so subtle, and from that can make someone begin to question whether they are being overly sensitive or imagining things.” They go on to say that our bodies tend to respond to circumstances, including racism, in our surroundings that can cause stress.
We can all relate to being stressed out, especially while in college. For those students of color, there is also additional stress from the accumulated micro aggressions that they experience. Micro aggressions not only tend to affect students that experience them, but it can also affect the climate of a campus.
Just because a situation isn’t directly involving you, it doesn’t mean that it’s not affecting you. If people are feeling discomfort and isolation at the college you attend, then that in some way does affect you. The climate of a campus is what some would say, makes the college what it is.
If micro aggressions already make students feel isolated and give added stress, but other students feel that it doesn’t matter because it’s not directly affecting them, then that can turn the campus’ climate into a “us vs. them” feeling. If not resolved, then it could turn into a worse situation for the college.
For example, the infamous events that have taken place on the University of Missouri’s campus is a result of unresolved racial situations that turned into a horrible cry for help. For a college like Juniata that promotes diversity and inclusion, if the events that took place at Mizzou were to happen on this campus, it would push the college several steps back than the steps that they have taken to make the college what it is now.
For a student of color, I do understand that over the years the administrators of Juniata have made huge steps to make sure that they are doing a good job of making everyone feel welcomed, not just students of color. As a college, which includes the students, we need to do our part in making others of different backgrounds feel welcomed as well.
There is always going to be a sense of curiosity, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but the way we go about getting our curiosity fed is what we, as a college, need to work on.
It is okay to admire how smart or pretty someone is, but when it gets stated as someone is only smart or pretty enough for their own race, is when micro aggressions need to be eliminated.
It is definitely something that will not happened overnight, but it isn’t impossible. Juniata has recently titled their strategic plan “Courage to Act,” and if we all stand up together to not let stereotypes be our first way of thinking, we could then, eliminate micro aggressions as a whole.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 5 Oped