Racial Microaggressions Research Group


Over the past few decades, college campuses have become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. As a result, colleges and universities have initiated policies in order to increase racial representation on campuses. More recently, higher education administrators have attempted to promote multicultural awareness and sensitivity in an effort to create an inclusive and diverse democracy on college campuses. Over the last twenty years, researchers and educators have conducted research which has concluded that there are a variety of benefits to diversity in higher education, including: critical thinking, intellectual engagement, cultural awareness, democratic sensibilities, perspective taking, and increased engagement in community and civic engagement (Chang, 1996; Engberg & Mayhew, 2007; Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002; Hurtado, 2005; Lopez, 2004). However, despite increases in numerical diversity and research highlighting the benefits of diversity, members of historically underrepresented groups tend to perceive the general campus climate differently than their majority group peers. In general, racial minority students perceive the campus climate as unwelcoming and unsupportive, which has been associated with adverse outcomes, such as poor academic performance, greater levels of stress, and poor mental health outcomes (Worthington, Navarro, Loewy, & Hart, 2008). In addition, research indicates that racial minority students may perceive greater racial tension on campus, particularly in residence halls, which is related to decreased academic persistence and may lead to decreases in racial minority retention rates.

One possible reason for the differential experiences of campus climate by racial minority and majority students may be related to racial microaggressions. There has been an increased attention to subtle and contemporary forms of racism in the social science literature. According to Sue (2007), “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” (p. 271). These racial microaggressions are often perpetuated by individuals who are unaware that they communicate in this way when interacting with racial and ethnic minorities. Given the increase in diversity on college campuses, and the negative perceptions of campus climate among students of color, racial microaggressions may be one area of research that can help explain these phenomena.

For more information on this project, please contact Stacy Anne Harwood (sharwood@illinois.edu), Ruby Mendenhall (rubymen@illinois.edu), or Margaret Browne Huntt (mbrowne@illinois.edu).


Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society
1108 W Stoughton, Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: 217.244.0188 Fax: 217.333.8122 E-mail: cdms@illinois.edu