Microaggression is defined as a casual degradation of any marginalized group. International students and members of staff across college campuses in the United States face microaggressions on an almost daily basis. While many cases of microaggression towards the international community come from a place of little to no knowledge of another culture, religion, or group of people, they can be received as subtle acts of racism or bigotry.
The argument that microaggressions do not cause a problem stem from the belief that what is being told is said without any intent, racist agenda, or derogatory meaning. However, it is important to note that a microaggression in itself, is defined as something that takes place without knowledge or consent but is still categorized as an example of racism faced by minority groups in the United States.
Shobhana Xavier, a religious studies professor at Ithaca College, identifies herself as Sri-Lankan-Canadian. Xavier says she experiences microaggressions in the classroom and that the serious nature of these types of acts is often overlooked.
“I think these forms of everyday treatment unfold in classrooms a lot for people like me, particularly with the way that students treat you, predominately male students, especially white male students,” Xavier explains. “I think the complexity of being a female professor of color who teaches sensitive topics in relation to religion presents a very fertile landscape for microaggressions both in and outside the classroom.”
Religious studies professor Shobhana Xavier
Xavier said microaggressions occur in various forms and academic institutions like college campuses can do much more for their international community.
“Bringing students from international countries, or different cultural, racial, economic backgrounds to campus is not enough, institutions need to think about what is needed as support for these students after they arrive on campus,” Xavier explains. “Often the agenda is to diversify the student body, but applauding oneself for being a “visually diverse campus” is not sufficient.”
The issue of microaggressions, particularly how to solve them, is another issue in itself. The responsibility of educating those responsible for microaggressions, be it knowingly or unknowingly, should rest upon the international community alone. Often times a singular black student or a hijab wearing Muslim woman will suddenly be thrown into a situation where they must represent and speak/defend on behalf of their entire race, religion, or culture.
Diana Dimitrova, Head of the Office of International Programs at Ithaca College
This should never be the case, as they do not represent the voice of all those who are like them and they should not. International students and members of staff are not here to help their co-faculty, staff, and students unpack their privilege, and strive to educate them against microaggressions and racism in general. It is an individual effort that can be become a community wide effort to educate oneself against how to properly address certain topics and issues, when related directly to a person’s race, culture, or religion.
Carolina Gaudenzi, a junior international student at Ithaca College from San Marino, explains how a daily dose of microaggression can numb a person after a period of time.
“I would get very angry when someone said something to me like that my freshman year in the United States, but after a while it stopped bothering me anymore,” Gaudenzi explained. “It’s not that it does not affect me anymore because it still does, but it happens so often that there comes a point where you don’t wish to deal with it anymore.”
The eradication of this problem is nowhere in sight, but open spaces such as college campuses where discussions on microaggressions can be made without fear can begin to scratch the surface of the issue. What is important to know is that it occurs on a much higher level than most perceive, and self-reflection on how each individual can make a difference against the spread of microaggression, is the key to removing the alienating effect it has on the international community.