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Opinion: Microaggressions on campus aren't that 'micro'

Minority students at ASU experience racism on a daily basis, whether students realize it or not

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"Microaggressions on campus subtly show prejudice towards minority students." Illustration published on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

"Your hair is pretty for a black girl." "You talk like a white person." The list goes on.

Growing up as one of the only people of color in a white suburb, so much of what I enjoyed — from the music I liked to how I talked — was considered "white." 

And I always felt like it made me an outlier among other black people. 

It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that what I like really had nothing to do with my race, making me feel like an outsider to my both own race as well as my white peers.

Even though I grew up around white people, when I got to the ASU, I was bombarded with microaggressions in a predominantly white institution. These statements or actions of discrimination can be seen on college campuses toward different minority, cultural and religious groups. 

There are people who claim that these incidents or actions don't mean any harm, but that doesn't lessen the impact. These microaggressions can be just as harmful as more blatant forms of racism. 

While white students at ASU might not think they contribute to this issue, they often do, and they need to be more cognizant of how their words and actions impact people of color.

In a 2014 study done by Harvard’s Voices of Diversity project, the study showed that minority students sometimes self-segregate in order to avoid rejection from their peers of other races. 

In other words, while minority students can share the same interests as white peers, they may hesitate to get involved in the same groups because of the damage racial stereotypes have done on their psyches.

On top of the self-doubt that might already cause people of color to hesitate to get involved in their universities, institutional inaction to racially charged acts can make minority students feel even more isolated.

Part of the change has to start with how the University views their students. 

“There is this thought that we exist as a monolith,” said Laila Kabongi, a member of Multicultural Solidarity Coalition and a senior studying health sciences. “It’s a disadvantage and disservice to the University and the students.” 

Although there are cultural coalitions at ASU, they are still works-in-progress. It can also be difficult to foster productive discussion about social progress between the University and its minority students.

“These clubs are for what (the University) thinks we are,” Kabongi said. 

Another common phenomenon with minority students is impostor syndrome, which is when someone constantly undermines their accomplishments and think they will be exposed as a fraud.

A 2017 study found that African-American students had higher rates of impostor syndrome which could lead to side effects such as depression.

At ASU, which is predominantly white, it is easy for minority students to feel like they don't belong.

What might seem like an off-color remark or a lighthearted joke can further perpetuate these larger psychological issues that spawn from systematic oppression.

The solutions to this problem can be as simple as key ASU clubs that are predominantly white reaching out to more culturally diverse clubs and finding ways to collaborate.

More formally, the University could create more opportunities to promote discourse between its majority-white population and its minority students.

Reach the reporter at or follow @barbarasmiith on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the authors’ and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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