Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 5-2020

Faculty Advisor(s)

Amy Moors



Microaggressions are forms of sexism, racism, and homophobia communicated through derogatory slights, including telling harmful jokes or making judgments about someone’s perceived identity. Previous research has shown microaggressions have a significant impact on college students' sense of self and belonging, often making them feel isolated on campus (McGabe, 2009). In order to assess exclusionary behavior, we asked first-year students if they have committed microaggressions and, if so, in what context.


We recruited 218 first-year Chapman University students (74% women, 24% men, 2% trans/non-binary; Mage = 18). Participants took a 20-minute survey asking about their overall college experiences and, in an open-ended format, whether they have intentionally or unintentionally committed microaggressions. Of the 218 participants, 122 left responses. Using thematic coding (Braun & Clarke, 2006), two undergraduate research assistants independently coded the responses.


Qualitative coding of the responses yielded 11 major themes and 8 minor themes. The most common response was that 50% of students had never committed a microaggression and of those, 23% couldn’t think of a time it may have occurred and 9% didn’t understand what a microaggression was. Among those who reported committing a microaggression, 12% were race/ethnicity-based, 7% were gender-based, and 4% were sexuality-based. In terms of the context of committing these microaggressions, 8% said it was intentional, 8% reported it was unintentional, and 6% indicated it was a joke, and, of those, only 5% of those felt inclined to change their behavior.


As early as the first year of college, students are committing intentional and unintentional microaggressions. We discovered that not only are students unaware of when they’re committing microaggressions, but those who are committing microaggressions are also rarely changing their behavior. Better education needs to be provided about microaggressions to encourage behavior change and foster greater campus inclusion.


Presented at the Spring 2020 Student Scholar Symposium at Chapman University.