Often unnoticed, uncomfortable and perhaps unintentional, microaggressions are a common offense to people of color. At Georgetown University, minority students regularly encounter microaggressions despite university efforts to build a diverse community, according to several students in interviews with The Hoya.

Leslie Hinkson, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgetown, defines microaggression as “an indirect, subtle, sometimes unintentional act of discrimination against a member or members of a marginalized group.”

For students of color, microaggressions can appear unexpectedly in conversations and classrooms. Minority students at Georgetown recounted a range of microaggressions that frustrate their daily lives, from being assumed to be an international student with surprisingly good English to being wrongly identified as another student of color. The indirect nature of microaggressions can make them even more difficult for students and communities at Georgetown to grapple with.

Challenging Transition

Hinkson highlighted the frequent and subtle nature of microaggressions, which can compound their effects.

“Dealing with multiple microaggressions over the course of a day or a week can cause significant emotional and psychological distress to an individual – both because their effects can be additive and because their subtlety often leads one questioning whether they should be experiencing distress over them in the first place,” Hinkson wrote in an email to The Hoya.

White students constitute 56 percent of Georgetown’s student body, according to the Department of Education’s college scorecard. 6 percent of the student body is black, and 10 percent is Asian.

For incoming students of color from diverse communities, microaggressions can exacerbate the difficult adjustment to a predominantly white college.

Onrei Josh Ladao (COL ’21), a student intern at Georgetown’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, found it difficult to assimilate to Georgetown’s environment as a student of color.

“It was definitely a culture shock coming into Georgetown,” Ladao said. “I grew up in a predominantly [person of color] neighborhood, so the reality for me was that I looked different from the majority of the school demographic.”

Multiple times, faculty and staff confuse students of the same ethnicity, according to resident director of La Casa Latina Joseph Gomez (SFS ’19).

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that I have been microaggressed on campus,” Gomez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “My first year at Georgetown, so many people (other students, professors, admin, staff and others) would confuse me for other Latinx men. This happened multiple times a week.”

La Casa Latina, a CMEA student program, opened in 2016 and provides a residence for several Latinx students and a broader communal space for the Latinx members of campus to share their narratives and confront issues commonly faced by the Latinx community.

People also sometimes assume Asian students are international students, according to Lin Yuan (MSB ’20), vice president of the Asian American Student Association.

“I was talking about landing an internship with a friend who I have known since freshman year,” Yuan wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This person immediately said ‘Oh, it must have been hard for you as an international student since you need [visa] sponsorship.’ I have lived in neighborhoods 30 minutes away from Georgetown for more than 10 years.”

Steven Botsoe (COL ’20) serves as a representative for the African Society of Georgetown to the Students of Color Alliance, an umbrella organization sponsoring various multicultural student groups on campus. (Full disclosure: Botsoe is a staff writer for The Guide).

Students of color can feel burdened to speak on behalf of their entire race, according to Botsoe.

“I’ve often been asked to speak for the black community or explain certain aspects of blackness, regardless of whether or not I have experienced it,” Botsoe wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Students felt particularly burdened by microaggressions because of their power to diminish their identities and abilities, according to Gomez.

“It bothered me a lot because I felt unrecognized for my accomplishments at the beginning of my Georgetown career,” Gomez wrote. “There aren’t that many people at Georgetown who look like me, so I basically was feeling like just a number or box Georgetown could check for diversity purposes.”

Ladao felt microaggressions reduce complex identities to common stereotypes.

“What’s particularly bothersome is that microaggressions perpetuate a certain stereotype for an identity,” Ladao said. “In reality, our identities are much more than that.”

Institutional Advancement

Despite its reputation as a predominantly white institution, Georgetown has made several efforts to create inclusive spaces and encourage diversity on campus.  

The School of Medicine has recently introduced a campaign that seeks to educate medical students about how microaggressions can arise in the field of medicine and how to respond to them.

The university also encourages members of the Georgetown community to report incidents of bias such as microaggressions through Georgetown’s online bias reporting system, according to Vice President of Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny.

“Georgetown has many resources and support available for community members to explore reporting options if they experience or witness a microaggression or other form of bias, harassment, or discrimination,” Kilkenny wrote in an email to The Hoya.

The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship also offers workshops and training sessions for faculty, staff and graduate students involved in teaching, with an explicit focus on reducing bias, according to Senior Associate Director for Inclusive Teaching and Learning at CNDLS Joselyn Schultz Lewis.

“Throughout the year, CNDLS offers more than 10 inclusive pedagogy-focused workshops, events, and trainings where 400-500 faculty and staff members convene to strengthen their understanding of diversity and inclusion, equip them with the knowledge and skills to address critical issues and unconscious biases in the classroom, and empower them to enhance the student learning experience,” Schultz Lewis wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Additionally, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access runs a series of multicultural programming for ethnically and racially underrepresented students at Georgetown. Examples include Young Leaders in Education About Diversity, a pre-orientation program that provides a space to discuss diversity and critically reflect upon various facets of identity, including race and ethnicity.

Outside of institutionalized forms of support, student-run clubs also serve as a way to combat stereotyping and reliance on generalizations.

Not all student groups confront the issue of microaggressions directly: African Society of Georgetown prefers to emphasize what brings students closer, according to Botsoe.

“ASG works more to be celebratory and build community rather than try to have its members conduct themselves in potentially microaggressive spaces,” Botsoe wrote.

The Asian American Student Association tries to educate its membership through cross-cultural partnerships with other clubs, according to Yuan.

“AASA tries very hard in educating its members in terms of respecting other POC cultures by co-sponsoring events with other culture clubs,” Yuan wrote. “For instance, its Political Awareness Committee did collaborate with Black House to talk about the after effects of the LA Riots to both the Korean American community and black community.”

Broader Commitment

Despite the assistance of CMEA and the Georgetown Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships, mentorship networks and other resources to first-generation college students, Ladao feels the Georgetown community should participate more broadly in efforts to promote inclusivity.

“Being in spaces like the CMEA and the GSP office helped me significantly in acclimating to Georgetown,” Ladao said. “Without these resources, navigating Georgetown’s campus as a first year would have been much more difficult, [but] fostering inclusion and diversity doesn’t stop with the presence of a multicultural resource center and with the programs it offers. It is an active mission that requires everyone, including faculty and professors, to be on board.”

Gomez praises Georgetown’s New Student Orientation diversity training, as well as the CMEA, but still believes more should be done to compensate students of color who help run these programs.

“Georgetown has the responsibility to ensure that every student feels welcome on campus, and I think the university understands that responsibility,” Gomez said. “However, a lot of these programs and initiatives are run by students (often students of color) who receive little to no compensation for their work. I think the next big step is to properly compensate students who take [this] on.”

Botsoe said course offerings at Georgetown have not expanded enough yet to combat issues such as microaggressions, even with the recent addition of the African American studies department.

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY | The African American studies department, launched only three years ago, lacks the infrastructure for comprehensive courses confronting issues like microaggressions, according to Steven Botsoe (COL ’20).

“The African American studies department is so new, relatively small, and has [few] courses. In a way, it’s an additional afterthought, where Georgetown’s PWI [predominantly white institution] status can contribute to microaggressions where you need to assert yourself as a non-white person if you want to be given space or be recognized.”

Georgetown’s department of African American studies has only existed for about three years. While the university has recently begun to offer an introductory course on Asian American studies, an Asian American studies department has yet to come to fruition.

“Georgetown owes it to its students to actively engage in this goal by having classes, organizations, and faculty directly involved in dialogue that addresses these issues,” Ladao said.

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