By IVY BECKENHOLDT
According to Drake University’s website, the University “creates a culture of inclusion.” However, many question the reality of inclusion at Drake. Senior Anika Boyert said that she feels the perspectives of people of color, intentional or not, are missing at Drake. Boyert and other students of color have experienced microaggressions on campus. Microaggressions are offenses made toward any group through one’s actions or words. While some microaggressions may be unintentional, they can create an impact that communicates a fundamentally derogatory insult to a certain group.
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Godfried Asante said that there is likely a lack of communication between faculty and students regarding microaggressions because they are difficult to define and discuss.
“Microaggressions are very difficult to pinpoint and to bring up because it’s not like for instance the KKK or someone clearly discriminating against you, but they are very micro acts, that even sometimes when you’re acting in good conscience, it inadvertently reproduces this subjugation of another person,” Asante said. “Microaggressions are difficult because to someone else they may think, ‘I’m trying really hard here, I was at a rally, I was doing this, so why are you now telling me that this instance is somehow a microaggression?’ So, because of that, it’s difficult to talk about or to bring up. It creates tensions because typically it’s something so subtle and minute but if you have 10 minute things eventually they become daily acts of violence.”
Associate Professor of American Studies Dr. Sandra Patton-Imani echos Asante saying that microaggressions are difficult because frequently people are unaware of the impact of certain actions. Patton-Imani said that she has experienced this with her interracial marriage.
“For example, in my relationship with my wife we experience this on a regular basis,” Patton-Imani said. “One of the things that happens to us all the time is that were talking to a sales person, she’ll ask a question and they’ll look at me and respond. That’s just this common thing that happens all the time that really says ‘you don’t matter, you’re not the one who matters here, whiteness overrides all else.’”
These subtle acts can add up to create a negative experience for students of color.
“In terms of my experiences with microaggressions, when you have a class talking about something that has to do with black populations and you have a professor who looks at you directly when you’re the only person of color in the room, and so they ask you as if you are the representative, that’s difficult,” Boyert said.
Boyert has had a classmate touch her hair when she changed styles, which she said invaded her space and made her feel uncomfortable.
For some, it can be difficult to see the impact of microaggressions. For minorities, researchers from Columbia University say microaggressions can lead to long-term stress and depression.
“It’s hard enough to be a college student let alone a student of color and on top of that to be a student of color at a PWI (predominantly white institution),” Boyert said. “You go from not only just the everyday struggles of deadlines, expectations, jobs and a busy routine but then you have the student of color perspective. We have all that going on, and just the regular social issues that happen being a person of color. Having all these fears about the way that the world is going right now and whether or not the social climate is going to change to accept you or cast you out even more than you already feel. But when you’re that student at a PWI you have all those worries on top of sitting in a room surrounded by people who don’t look like you and feeling alone, or feeling as though you have to speak up all the time for people who do look like you but aren’t present in the room at the moment.”
Asante said that the historical segregation in classrooms has made him passionate about social justice work at Drake.
“Issues of social justice are very close to my heart because historically, institutions like Drake or universities in general have been spaces that were created without black people in mind,” Asante said. “So, this means that our involvement in education pushes against a particular grain. We’re going against a current by being here, teaching and being in classrooms, contributing to knowledge that historically we have not had a chance to contribute to.”
With this historical lack of inclusion, Asante said it is important to continuously open up spaces for conversation regarding race, class, gender and sexual orientation.
There have been several efforts made by Drake University to increase acceptance among students.
“Since I’ve been here, Drake has done tremendously in terms of institutionally they have hired Erin Lain and Tony Tyler’s office has also been giving a lot of resources to help students of color,” Asante said. “In terms of what could be done, in another area, they could hire more faculty of color on campus, not just faculty of color who maybe teach chemistry or physics, but those who teach social sciences, those who teach African American course studies.”
Several members of the administration and faculty have encouraged students to have a respectful discourse with others who are different than them to create a more inclusive campus.
Boyert said that in order to share the idea of having pleasant discourse, a significant member of campus spoke to her class and used a quote from a former president and slave owner as their model for respect.
“President or not, they still owned slaves and they used that to tell me that that’s their model for respect,” Boyert said. “I don’t feel right about that, but then again I’m the only person of color in the room. So, then it’s like okay, am I just overly sensitive or is it something to be upset about?”
Furthermore, Boyert said that the class was shown a video of two people who had different beliefs but had a respectful discussion. According to Boyert, the significant member of campus stated that if they can get along, anyone can.
“One party is disagreeing with someone based on their set of beliefs, you chose your beliefs, but I can’t choose whether or not I’m black and I can’t try to help someone understand my identity as a black woman and my existence as a black woman when they fundamentally disagree with my humanity first of all, and then with the validity of my race or validity of my sex,” Boyert said.
Patton-Imani said it can be difficult to speak about race in a society where many still think colorblindness is the goal.
“I mean I’ve heard horrible stories from students,” Patton-Imani said. “I have heard things from African American students that professors have said to them. I know these professors and I know that they are well meaning, well intentioned people but they don’t know how to address it or they don’t know how to take apart the idea that they got out of the media even if they are teaching something where they should.”
In order to address microaggressions, Patton-Imani said that there needs to be a change in the way white people approach race.
“People need to have a sense of humility about what they understand about race,” Patton-Imani said. “You do not have to present yourself as if you know everything. It’s okay to not know what to say. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes and you need to actually be able to move beyond that discomfort sometimes if you’re a bystander and you hear something said. It’s not supposed to be on people of color to constantly run that battle. We need to step up as white people and say ‘wait a minute here, that is racist or that is really offensive or do you hear what you’re saying.’”
In order to further the discussion on inclusiveness at Drake, there will be a town hall on Thursday, February 28th at 4 p.m. in Sussman theater.
According to Tony Tyler, Director of Student Engagement, Equity & Inclusion, “Associate Provost Erin Lain will be going over follow up to #paintitblack, including student initiatives, faculty efforts and administrative programs.”
Photo of the #paintitblack event| Courtesy of Grace Hulin