by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
According to a new report released by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, just “walking into or sitting in” a classroom full of white people is a microaggression in itself.
“Students of color reported feeling uncomfortable and unwelcomed just walking into or sitting in the classroom, especially if they were the only person of color, or one of a few,” stated the report, which designated the experience a microaggression.
“People do not necessarily say I do not belong, but I feel as if I do not when I am in a classroom and I am the one non-White person,” said one student, identified as a Latina female, who is quoted in the report.
The report, titled “Racial Microaggressions,” was based on an online survey of more than 4,800 students of color during the 2011–12 academic year, and it found more than 800 examples of such microaggressions on campus. Now, that may seem like a lot — but it’s important to recognize that this high number could signify the prevalence of a tendency to assume that almost anything is racist rather than the prevalence of racism itself. …
… [A] lot of the report’s “most commonly described” racial microaggressions could also be interpreted as having nothing to do with racism at all. “Being the only student of color in the classroom” was on that list, as was “being discouraged during meetings with one’s academic advisor” (one student determined that her adviser had questioned her choice of major only because “she realized I was African American,” and therefore, “in her mind, I wasn’t able to successfully complete the major”); “being dismissed or ignored by the instructor before or after class” (an African-American male stated, “when I raise my hand, I am often not called upon”); “receiving hostile reactions to participation in the classroom discussion” (one student said she has “witnessed and felt that when a minority student tries to correct [a] comment . . . they are then viewed as angry or defensive when in reality they are simply trying to inform others of what is true”); and “being excluded from participating in a group project” (one student says he keeps quiet in these situations because “I feel as though what I have to say often doesn’t matter to the rest of the group members.”)
But don’t advisers question students’ major choices all the time? Isn’t that actually their entire job? Hasn’t every participation-eager student had a professor that he feels doesn’t call on him enough? Isn’t it possible that people who act annoyed or upset about being publicly corrected are just upset about being publicly corrected in general rather than because they were corrected by a minority student specifically? Doesn’t the group-project example sound more like the kind of general shyness/self-doubt/social anxiety that anyone can experience rather than a sign of institutional racism?