Ali James ‘23 Presents Research on the Dangers of Microaggressions at WAGS Brown Bag

By Mary Haley, Staff Writer

Alixandria James, a senior at Manhattan College, brought to light important issues at her research presentation, named “The Impact of Racial Battle Fatigue on Individuals of Color at Predominantly White Institutions and its Contributions to Health Disparities in Stress-Related Disease.” The Women and Gender Studies (WAGS) Brown Bag event was held in the Alumni Room of O’Malley Library on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Nefertiti Takla, Ph.D, started off the event by introducing James and highlighting some of her accomplishments such as being the first Manhattan College student to earn a Truman Scholarship, and working as an outreach intern for a New York City hospital. James also works as an intern at the Lasallian Women and Gender Research Center (LWGRC) on campus, where she developed her research over this past summer. 

“Ali is passionate about mitigating racial disparities and promoting equity,” Takla said. 

James started her presentation by explaining how stress affects all people, and that our health can pay due to heightened levels of stress. Discrimination among different ethnic and racial groups can be susceptible to more stress than others, which is a “key factor in chronic stress related health disparities,” James said.

James defined microaggressions as, “a subtle, unconscious or intentional comment that is typically made to a person of color.” She focused her research on the effects of microaggressions at predominantly white institutions of college campuses. 

“Ethnic minority students are more likely to attend predominantly white institutions as opposed to historically Black colleges solely because of the accessibility,” James said. “Only about three percent of colleges in America are historically Black institutions … because of this … ethnic minorities are more likely to be the recipient of discrimination, which leads to a negative campus climate.”

James then transitioned into “racial battle fatigue,” which she described as the “physical, mental and emotional stress of coping with a constant stream of microaggressions and overt racism for people of color.” She also explained that being a part of many different minorities can make the effect of racial battle fatigue even more severe, and can eventually lead to the deterioration of an individual’s physical and mental health. When people of color are met with microaggressions constantly without confronting them, racial battle fatigue can occur, which is especially seen within predominantly white institutions. 

In addition to this research, James created multiple graphs with this data, one of them being named “The Gendered-Racial/Ethnic Minoritization Model,” a study created to “display how intersectional components of one’s identity may combine, contributing to greater racial battle fatigue severity.” James showed this model in her presentation.

James created another model showing the survey results of Manhattan College students and faculty this past summer, called the “Racial Battle Fatigue Survey,” which was composed of around forty questions about psychological, physiological and behavioral responses to racial battle fatigue. Additionally, James asked the community about their experiences with microaggressions and how frequent they happen. 

With this research, James showed two graphs and their correlations. The first graph showed a weak correlation between microaggressions and racial battle fatigue in white individuals, while the other graph explained prevalence of microaggressions. In Black individuals, there was a significantly higher correlation between the frequency of microaggression and racial battle fatigue score. James explained that these two results are supported by literature, meaning that this is a real and prevalent problem in the Manhattan College community, but one that can be fixed.

James made known the resources the college already has in place to improve equity, mainly being the Bias Education and Response System. 

“The Bias Education and Response System is for students and faculty administrators… [It] basically takes a look at extensive bias and tries to approach them with an educational as opposed to a punitive solution,” James said. “Any student … has the opportunity to fill out a form, so if you witness an incident of bias … this is an anonymous way to go ahead and report that.”

Evelyn Scaramella, Ph.D., director of the LWGRC, spoke with The Quadrangle on why talking about these matters are so important, and what it will hopefully bring to the College. 

“We need measurable data around how our students and people of color on campus are affected by microaggressions and institutional racism. I think [the presentation] is only positive in the sense that it identifies what people’s experiences are and offers interventions towards what we can do as a campus community to better support people of color.”

Heather Parker, a freshman business major, attended the presentation and spoke on why this issue is important to recognize and what she hopes the College will do with this information. 

“The statistics were not what I was expecting and it is good to be informed on it. I hope the school can take this information and make it a comfortable space for [people of color].” Parker said. 

James, a public health major and management minor, hopes to expand her research by opening up the survey again and eventually go to graduate school to study this matter even more deeply. 

“I think I want to look at a lot more predominantly white institutions,” she said. “A lot of students of color are going into [predominantly white institutions] because they are [more] accessible. So with that, and because there are serious health implications, the need for looking at this, it’s not just about wellbeing and sense of belonging. It’s really about people’s health.”