Researchers studying racial microaggressions at the University of Connecticut report that 43% of students who completed a survey feel they need to minimize aspects of their racial and ethnic background to fit in at UConn.
The survey, which closed last year, is a 30-minute survey intended for students of color that highlights student experiences of racial microaggressions significant to the UConn community.
Findings report 77% of students of color who completed the survey say race relations on campus were a little or somewhat to extremely problematic.
The campus setting where the largest number of students of color reported feeling uncomfortable in or feel uncomfortable in and avoid were fraternity and sorority houses.
“… One of the black frats was out tabling for something or other and as some white boys were walking on, one of them says something like, ‘What are they even doing here man, when did the campus become overrun with them?” one student shared in the survey. “To which the other responds, ‘My dad said this was a predominately white school and I was really hoping that stayed true.’”
The classroom ranked second among the 13 campus settings that students of color reported feeling uncomfortable in or avoiding (or both).
“The objectives of this research were to give a greater voice to students of color and a stronger platform from which to articulate instances of racial microaggressions … to analyze quantitative survey data and qualitative data gleaned from open-ended questions to identify trends, patterns, and recurrent issues that need institutional attention, and to elucidate and improve the experiences of students of color at UConn.”– the 2020 UConn Racial Microaggressions Study
“It is especially alarming that hundreds of students of color reported being made to feel inferior, not being taken seriously, and being discouraged from pursuing their educations and academic goals because of their race at UConn,” the UConn Racial Microaggressions Study said.
The Racial Microaggressions study found that over 30% of students of color reported being singled out for discussions of diversity in the classroom and other settings. Over 70% of students of color weren’t aware of UConn’s formal procedures for incidents of racial and ethnic discrimination.
“These quantitative data suggest that racial microaggressions are not isolated incidents,” the UConn Racial Microaggressions Study said. “They appear to be deeply and systematically ingrained in the university culture.”
Students who completed the survey shared their experiences with racial microinsults and microinvalidations, which are verbal and nonverbal interpersonal exchanges and communication that convey stereotypes, rudeness and may exclude or negate the thoughts, feelings and experiential reality of certain groups such as people of color.
“Sometimes within my program when I try to volunteer to answer a question in class, teachers avoid my gaze or don’t call on me,” one student shared in the survey. “It makes me feel invisible or like they expect my answer to be wrong which makes me very upset and doesn’t make me motivated for school.”
Statements from students highlight the common experience for students of color at UConn, which includes racial insensitivity, stereotyping, exclusion, being singled out in diversity discussions, treatment as second-class citizens and inferior learners, etc.
“In a class discussion regarding race, I was singled out as one of the students of color to discuss past experiences with discrimination by my TA,” a student shared in the survey. “I was extremely uncomfortable sharing my experience and I felt insulted by claims from my white classmates that students of color are undeservedly treated better than white students.”
Students lack faith in the institutional response to racist incidents, as six out of 10 students do not feel confident that UConn would respond to instances of racial discrimination appropriately.
“The frats and sororities leech on black culture and are continuously saying the N-word on campus property whether it be outside of class or in their buildings, posting it on social media like it’s a joke,” a student said in the survey. “There should be a comprehensive and mandatory online lesson, like the one for drug and alcohol that everyone should take on culture appropriation and teach what diversity actually is. Without that proper level of education, no one will speak out about the low level of inclusivity on campus.”
As of now, UConn offers an optional one-credit special topics course on U.S. Anti-Black Racism (UNIV1985; UNIV3985); there is yet to be a mandatory course or training for students on racial sensitivity.
“I think the University needs to stop focusing on the numbers and statistics about our ‘diverse’ campus and focus more upon its students’ wellbeing,” a student said in the survey. “I also think the University needs to do a better job about educating the student body about how racism can manifest in our daily lives.”
Four themes emerged from the research conducted at the UConn campus, which includes unwelcoming learning and living spaces, the prevalence of racial microaggressions perpetrated by faculty, students and staff, lacking awareness of UConn’s racial bias policies and reporting procedures and a lack of confidence in the university administration’s response to racial bias incidents.
“These themes suggest a climate and culture at the university in which explicit and implicit expressions of racial bias and microaggressions can flourish, but one which leaves students of color feeling invisible, harmed and impeded in their learning process,” the UConn Racial Microaggressions Study said.
A set of recommendations is put forth in light of the quantitative and qualitative data collected during the study, aforementioned reports, racial microaggressions literature and UConn ODI website.
“Our recommendations coalesce around three broad areas: training, policy, programmatic and curricular changes, and communication/public relations,” the UConn Racial Microaggressions Study said.
The study continued, “To improve the campus climate and create an inclusive learning, working, and living environment, training around racial microaggressions needs to be recurring, tailored, include opportunities for critical self-reflection, and empower participants for action.”
A comprehensive list of recommendations to the UConn community is suggested in the Racial Microaggressions Study for students, faculty, staff and university communications.
“The university has a great deal of work to do in order to overhaul a culture that has to any extent tolerated overt and covert microaggressions up to this point,” the study said. “It is our hope that the information we shared in this report will advance UConn toward becoming a community that is purposeful, open, just, disciplined, caring, and celebrative of all its members including students, (faculty, and staff) of color.”