If you’re on this site this will probably come as no surprise, but a new study finds that microaggressions contribute to a “lack of representation” among historically-excluded students in STEM education.

Microaggressions are subtle but offensive comments or actions directed at a minority group that unconsciously reinforce stereotypes or bias. They can be hard to quantify because they’re often delivered casually and without the intention to offend. Because they’re often ‘casual’ remarks, they can be easy to cover-up or brush off.

The impact of microaggressions adds up over time but can lead to several negative outcomes, including anxiety, depression, and a loss of confidence.

For their new paper, researchers at the University of Illinois analyzed the results of an online survey filled out by more than 4,800 post-secondary students of colour, and found that Black students were more likely to experience racial microaggressions than other students, with Black women reporting the highest rates.

Latina women, Asian women, and Indigenous women also reported experiencing high levels of race-based microaggressions.

The study’s authors say the microaggressions create an unwelcoming environment that may make some students less likely to continue STEM studies.

“Racial microaggressions are subtle, as opposed to overt, behaviours or remarks that can serve to demean, degrade, invalidate, or otherwise make a person take a step back to try to figure out, ‘was that because of my race?’ That’s the difficult thing about racial microaggressions, they can catch you off guard to a point where, in the moment, you may not necessarily know how to react,” Jasmine Collins, assistant professor of organizational and community leadership in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at Illinois and co-author of the study, says in a statement.

The researchers hope the findings will encourage STEM programs at all post-secondary institutions to “address the larger campus culture” to create more inclusive environments.


Microaggressions aren’t always race or gender-based. The paper mentioned here focused exclusively on these two traits, excluding omissions from non-binary and transgender participants. This information would have proven useful, given that members of the LGBTQ community are disproportionately attacked by these harmful comments.

Microaggressions can also relate to an individual’s disability status, age, religion, socioeconomic status, or weight, among other things.



As a recipient

  • Try to communicate how the microaggression made you feel. Experts recommend criticizing the aggression and not the aggressor.
  • If you choose to confront and are afraid of repercussions, have a witness present.
  • Seek support and talk it out with someone you trust.

As a witness

  • Be an ally for victims of microaggressions by offering support and condemning the behaviour.
  • Communicate why you find the microaggression offensive from your point of view. Don’t speak for the victim.

As a microaggressor

  • Try not to act defensive. If you’ve unintentionally offended someone, take it as an opportunity to assess and reflect.
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings, apologize for the offensive remark, and be aware of your unconscious biases.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and work to prevent future mistakes.

Source: APA

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