By IVY BECKENHOLDT
Drake University “creates a culture of inclusion” according to their website; however, many question the reality of inclusion at Drake. Senior Anika Boyert shared that she feels the opinions of people of color, intentional or not, are missing at Drake. Boyert, other students of color and faculty members 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 shared that he has also experienced microaggressions from students and other faculty members. He suggested that there is likely a lack of discussion regarding microaggressions at Drake because they are difficult to define.
“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 stated.
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 has experienced this with her interracial marriage. According to Patton-Imani, people have repeatedly ignored her wife due to her skin color and have attempted to only communicate with Patton-Imani herself.
“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,’” Patton-Imani said.
These subtle acts can add up to create a negative experience for students of color. Boyert has had students and faculty members commit microaggressions against her that have affected her feelings on inclusivity at Drake. Boyert has had professors look at her while discussing African-Americans and expect her to speak up to be “the representative” for other people of color.
Furthermore, Boyert has had experiences with microaggressions that she compared to actual aggression. According to Boyert, a classmate grabbed her hair when she changed styles, which she stated invaded her space and made her feel uncomfortable. Boyert shared that members of the administration at Drake have also committed microaggressions while attempting to spread the “inclusive” message. According to Boyert, an administrator spoke to her class and used a quote from a former president and slave owner as a respectful ideal.
“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.”
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,” Boyert said.
For some, it can be difficult to see the impact of microaggressions. For minorities, researchers from Columbia University report that 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. “When you’re that student at a PWI you have all those typical college worries on top of sitting in a room surrounded by people who don’t look like you and feeling alone.”
Patton-Imani said it can be difficult to speak about race in a society where many still think colorblindness is the goal. Although often unintentional, Patton-Imani said that fellow professors have often committed microaggressions due to the colorblind mentality. In order to address these microaggressions, Patton-Imani said that there needs to be a change in the way white people approach race.
“It’s not supposed to be on people of color to constantly run that battle,” Patton-Imani noted. “We need to step up as white people and say ‘wait a minute here, that is racist.’”
Photo of the #paintitblack event| Courtesy by Grace Hulin