Subtle Behaviors, Large Impact


Solorzaro, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73. Retrieved from

In my quest to begin compiling information on micro-inequities in higher education, I thought it would be great to find some historical literature on the topic. While there is a great deal of information pertaining to the corporate sector, there is menial information on micro-inequities as it relates to higher education and student retention.  Colleges and universities, nationwide, seemed to be continuously in the hunt to “fix” access and retention issues for minority students. From my personal and professional experience, the fix isn’t necessarily the access, but, rather the campus environment (campus climate) that makes retention such a challenging issue.

This article, by Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso uses critical race theory as a framework to discussing microaggressions and campus climate as it relates to African American college students.  The authors studied a group of thirty-four African American students at three Research 1, predominantly white institutions to discover the types of racial discrimination experienced, and how students responded to those experiences. None surprising, they conclude that the effects of covert, subtle microaggressions can be more harmful to the student than the blatant racism that is so often discussed.

This article was simply fantastic in that it clearly defined the difference between race, racism, and microaggressions. For the sake of the article, race is defended as the socially constructed “colorized” category created to show differences between ethnicities which is further used to show superiority of one race, namely White’s, over other races. The author’s use Audre Lorde’s definition of racism as the basis of the study: “the belief in the inherent superiority of one race of the all others and thereby the right to dominance” (p. 61). While this is a solid definition of racism, I prefer Manning Marable’s view on racism as a “system of ignorance, exploitation, and power to oppress African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Americans, American Indians and other people on the basis of ethnicity, culture, mannerisms, and color”. Manning’s’ definition is appealing because it puts a multi-ethnic face on the issue of racism, which is usually centered on the relationship between Black and White (Solorzaro, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000).

As mentioned earlier, the study was conducted through a series of focus-groups with thirty-four African American college students at three predominately white institutions (two public institutions, and one private institution). I was most intrigued by the fact that the researchers selected participants based on pre-determined criteria, although that specific criteria was not made available. With permission, the conversations were tape recorded, transcribed, and coded for data analysis. Using a qualitative approach with both open and closed-ended questions allows for liberal answers from participants which shows the intersectionality of several themes about race, gender, class, age, and disability.

The article was organized so that the connections between campus climate, academic microaggressions, and social microaggressions impact both the academic and social counter spaces. The information on microaggressions in the classroom is really impactful, as it serves as a segway into why Black students choose certain majors, why they are noticeable absent from STEM degrees, and why Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) still serve a purpose in higher education. Participants in this study reported that they are often the only student of color within the classroom, which leads to feelings of being ignored, and isolated. What I found particularly interesting was the intersection between the faculty perception and the student’s perception of themselves. One student who scored well on a math examination, was called into the professor’s office to be questioned about how he achieved the score, and was asked to re-take the examination a second time.

Additionally, the authors made a solid connection to the effects of microaggressions to counter spaces, which can be likened to the idea of “high stakes information networks as a source of community cultural wealth” (p. 542). as stated by Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez, and Cooper (2009) in their article on Community Cultural Wealth. Counter spaces include social networks, and organizations that minority students depend on for academic, moral, and spiritual support (i.e. Black student organizations, fraternities and sororities, church groups). This is important to my research because this shows not only the effects of the behavior, but, the alternative ways in which students cope with these small, yet, damaging form of racism.

One critique I have on this article, is that there could have been more statistical information provided in the method and findings section. The interviews were informative and gave life to the study, yet, it would have been better to understand the number of students who share the same feelings discovered in the interviews, and solid proof of their findings could be better understood through hard numbers. Also, the interview questions should have been in included in the article so that the nature and angle of the questions, and thus, the answers would be better analyzed by readers to see if there could be follow-up questions, or further areas of examination that were not included in the interview questions. The literature review was noticeably absent from the article, so I am not quite sure what other theories or previous studies have been conducted on the topic. However, the study’s conclusion was reasonable and coherent based on the examples and survey answers given by the participants.

While the study of microaggressions (microinequities) is not new, how we apply them to the educational environment greatly enhances the view from minority students and how they perform in in their respective programs. Personally, I have experienced microaggressions in my everyday life. They have been more apparent since I began working in higher education in a mid-level position, where there are few people of color in mid and senior-level positions. I see the relevance of this research as a practice-based issue in higher education as many practitioners are trained to apply student development theory to the educational process, but are not required to undergo any microaggression training to aid practitioners and faculty in identifying, and repudiate this form of bias.


Liou, D. D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining latina/o students’ college going information networks. American Educational Studies Association, 534-555.

Solorzaro, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73.

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Anika Hutchinson

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