A group of professors at Iowa State University will be using a federal grant to research the impact of “microaggressions” within the engineering field.
According to the abstract for the $248,000 National Science Foundation grant, the “research is motivated by the persistently low representation of gender and racial minorities in engineering education and seeks to study the subtle behaviors, or microaggressions, that students experience in engineering programs.”
Similar research will be conducted at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black college, for comparison.
In an interview with Campus Reform, the engineering professor in charge of the four-year study explained why she believes this is a topic worthy of deeper exploration.
“I find microaggressions particularly interesting because they are normalized in our everyday life but have significant consequences over time,” Cristina Poleacovschi said.
Webster’s defines a microaggression as an “action or statement that may seem innocuous but is considered by a person or people belonging to an oppressed group to be harmful because it displays racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted attitudes and assumptions.”
Poleacovschi echoed the NSF grant’s abstract, saying she experienced these responses as a woman in an engineering program.
“While microaggressions are especially frequent among minority students, their influence on student success and persistence in engineering programs has been understudied,” the abstract says. “This research investigates the effect of microaggressions on the experiences of engineering students and compares them in the context of a predominantly white institutions (Iowa State University) and a historically black college (North Carolina A&T).”
Poleacovschi said the allocation of the $248,000 is still being finalized and will likely go toward purchasing supplies and compensation for researcher and graduate student assistants.
The grant specifies that the research will include finding examples of microaggressions against all segments of the population.
According to the NSF description, participants in the study will include individuals who “identify as White men, White women, African-American men, African-American women, Latino men, Latina women, Asian men and Asian women.”
“The contribution of this grant is bringing an intersectionality perspective to the concept of microaggressions where we consider the interconnected nature of race and gender,” Poleacovschi said.
She said she hopes the outcome will be actionable information used to increase diversity in engineering and other fields.
“Creating an environment where minority students feel safe and included allows educating a competitive workforce which will ultimately positively impact our society by incorporating the needs and perspectives of all student groups,” the professor said.
The grant writers described similar benefits to the creation of this study.
“Importantly, this project clarifies that microaggressions need to be studied from an intersectional perspective and consider students’ unique identity based on both race and gender,” the abstract states. “Additionally, the study advances knowledge regarding institutional contexts (PWI vs. HBCU) for students’ experiences with microaggressions.”
The research is set to begin in January and continue through the end of 2021.
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