A couple of years ago, Dr. Adena Young-Jones, psychology professor at Missouri State University, conducted a study of bullying victims. The study revealed these now college-aged students showed significantly lower academic motivation, lower levels of autonomy and reduced academic competence.
This inspired her to change her focus to how microaggressions affected college students.
Young-Jones points out that microaggressions are “commonplace indignities that communicate insults through a stereotype or a negative attitude, or even well-meaning intentions.”
“Microaggressions are extremely subtle. A common response to microaggressions is that ‘they’re just like innocent acts,’ and the person who experiences them needs to just let go of the incident and not make a big deal out of it,” Young-Jones said.
Young-Jones uses an analogy like ‘the straw that broke the camels’ back to describe how these microaggressions have an accumulative affect.
“It definitely adds up over time and can be difficult for someone outside of the marginalized group to completely understand,” she said. “The fact that people experience identity in unequal ways indicates that we can easily dismiss microaggressions if you are not part of that marginalized group. It’s definitely a privilege of the majority group to not see or to not recognize that microaggressions occur, or to not recognize the detrimental impact of it happening over and over and over and over again.”
Young-Jones noted to gain awareness on the levels and the types of oppression, you must listen to people who are willing to share their experiences.
Diving into the study
Young-Jones focused her research project on how perceptive people are to everyday microaggressions.
Participants responded to 12 statements and scenarios, rating their opinions of:
- Level of offensiveness.
- Likelihood of a similar situation happening.
- Accuracy of the stereotypes portrayed.
- Awareness of the microaggressions impacting their group and other marginalized groups.
“Men from the suburban or rural locations were less aware of these types of microaggressions than women from the same locations,” she said. “But men and women from the urban settings were equally aware of those.
“Our findings may be due to the fact that in rural and suburban areas, women may be exposed more often to subtle slights.”
In regards to awareness, Young-Jones found that if you’re a member of a group that is commonly targeted, you were more likely to identify microaggressions aimed at your group. However, those who were marginalized based on sexual orientation were more adept at identifying microaggressions across the board.