Under the Trump administration, a University of Georgia professor has received nearly $230,000 in federal funding to study how racial “microaggressions” may hold back black and Hispanic students studying science—and what policies universities should put in place to deter or penalize microaggressors.
“Research shows that science and science education faculty and students from these populations regularly face intentional and unintentional acts of racial microaggressions that often negatively impact whether they remain in the [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] pipeline,” the National Science Foundation said. “Since many of these acts of racial microaggression come from administrators, colleagues, and peers, this project will serve as an important step in directly addressing this issue.”
The recipient of the award is Mary Atwater, a University of Georgia math and science professor. She plans to use implicit attitude tests and other tools to explore how “people of European-American descent” engage in “subtle, indirect or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group in science education,” the student newspaper reported.
The National Science Foundation has also provided funding for Atwater to explore what higher education can do discourage or punish those who commit microaggressions.
The University of Georgia already has a potentially strict policy in place. Its non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy says that microaggressions can constitute discriminatory harassment, “depending on their severity, frequency and context.”
In 2014, another University of Georgia professor said microaggressions can include “micro-insults” like backhanded compliments, “micro-assaults” that “demean or discount someone’s opinion or intelligence” and “micro-invalidations.”
The university requires all professors, supervisors or others in positions of authority on campus to report such discriminatory harassment to the Equal Opportunity Office. Punishments for acts or comments deemed discriminatory harassment range from mandatory training or counseling to a transcript notation, probation, suspension and expulsion.
While the University of Georgia’s policy does pay lip service to free speech, it also states that “academic freedom and freedom of expression will not excuse behavior that constitutes a violation of the law or this Policy.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.