How do students experience microaggressions?

How do students experience microaggressions?

Different cultural experiences 

Sociologists talk about people having different forms of ‘capital’, i.e. the assets that they bring.  Although assets usually refer to material assets like money or property, another form is described as ‘cultural capital’.  This is being familiar with certain cultural norms, practices and experiences of your social group, which make you recognisably part of that group.  As mentioned previously, parents and schools with greater means, will value and provide cultural experiences associated with their peers because they are perceived to confer social status. 

Student Quotes:

I was in class and the lecturer was talking about the Tate Museums and I looked around and saw people nodding and it was obvious they assumed we’d all been to them.  I’ve never even been to London let alone to all these museums.  It made me feel like a bit of an imposter, I didn’t really belong. 

 Different educational experiences 

Student Quotes:

People from private schools or grammar schools seem more used to having a more equal relationship with their teachers and parents and more used to approaching them and asking questions or speaking up in class. 

As a Scottish student I did Advanced Higher and Higher Maths, whereas most other students did A levels and in A level you do a lot more than in Advanced Higher Maths, so I think there’s a bit of a divide there in terms of knowledge, but that’s just how the curriculum works. 

In a tutorial or a seminar when you're in a group of people the voices that you've heard are definitely the ones that have been in private school and they're very much comfortable in a small group setting because that's what they used to.  At my state school that was hard in a class of 30 with one teacher at the front. 

They just seem to have the confidence to talk more.  They seem to have this ‘private school confidence’ and be willing to speak for 10 minutes and feel that they know what they’re saying and taking up space.   

When I came to uni I wanted to write for the student paper and join the student theatre but it took me two years to get the confidence to do it as I wasn’t sure I had the qualifications.  But then there are people who literally just come to uni thinking, the world is my oyster of course they want to hear from me.  

Different family support 

Student Quotes:

For my first essay for English Lit I was writing about Paradise Lost, which I’d never heard of before coming to uni and another girl said, “Oh I’m just going to send my Dad the essay because he did his PhD on it, so I’ll just get his advice.” 

I’m the first person in my family to go to uni.  But the others have been told about university from a very young age.  It feels familiar before they even get there.  

I was asking my friends to look over an essay for me and they suggested showing my parents.  And they were shocked when I was my parents wouldn’t even know what half of these things mean, because their English isn’t that good as they’re immigrants. 

They really don’t understand that their idea of financial difficulties is not the same as theirs.  They’ll say they know what it’s like, or that they’ve struggled with money, but that’s not true, they don’t have a clue.  It’s not just about my Dad not having a brilliant wage, it’s that without the wage, there’s nothing to fall back on. 

Being shamed by more privileged students 

Sometimes widening participation students are inadvertently or deliberately shamed by more privileged students.  For example, for their clothing, lack of knowledge or regional accent, but also by thoughtless remarks.   

Student Quotes:

I’ve had people say to me, “you can’t be working class because you’re at university”, as if having a superior intellect and being working class can’t go together. 

We were discussing inheritance tax in class and people have explicitly said that they have more money because they ‘just worked harder’.  “We deserve it because we just really, really worked hard for that.  And they said to me maybe if your parents had worked harder at school they could have done a little better.  My father is a manual labourer but I don’t think he works any less hard than their Dad at his desk job. 

When you first meet someone that power dynamic in terms of your social background is an instantaneous thing.  There’s an assumption about certain cultural things.  You can see where they put their gaze, on my shoes or bag, for example.  I think for students from widening participation backgrounds, that really undermines your confidence.