Professor talks critical race theory, micro-aggressions

Category:  News
Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 at 5:26 PM
Professor talks critical race theory, micro-aggressions by Hannah McDonald
Photo: Hannah McDonald

On Nov. 2, Edinboro University hosted its newest installment of the social equity distinguished professionals lecture series. This lecture — “Navigating Racial Battle Fatigue” — was presented by Brownlee about a study he had done with colleague Cynthia Carvajal.

Who was your favorite teacher growing up or your favorite professor now? Probably not the stone statue of a math teacher who does not know your name (or, frankly, care to learn it). More than likely, the educator that you like the most is the one you feel you can relate to, or one who can relate to you and your position in the world. 

Brownlee did not have that growing up. His lack of relatable teachers is something that helped define who he is and made him the educator he is today. 

On Nov. 2 in the Pogue Student Center, Brownlee talked about a study he and a colleague conducted in Phoenix, Arizona where he lived before moving to Edinboro just over three months ago. The study explored how students of color experience micro-aggressions and racism at prominently white institutions (PWIs) while pursuing graduate and doctoral degrees. 

Focuses of the study were critical race theory (CRT), micro-aggressions and racial battle fatigue (RBF). 

By referencing an article written by Daniel G. Solórzano and Tara J. Yosso (both of the University of California) in 2002, Brownlee defined CRT as, “a theoretical framework, [that] provides scholars with the opportunity to center the voices and experiences of people with color.” 

Moreover, CRT “provides a space for individuals to interrogate how institutions and social structures are changed by race and racism,” Brownlee’s presentation continued, this time referencing authors Michael Omi and Howard Winant.

Mirco-aggressions are just what they sound like: tiny forms of aggression that most commonly come in the form of language use. Brownlee gave the example of someone saying, “that’s so gay,” about a thing they didn’t like. The statement may not mean much, but over time, the use of the word “gay” as a derogatory term builds up and can harm individuals whom identify as such, he explained.

In the context of this lecture, Brownlee was referring to micro-aggressions of the racial type. The result of the built-up negativity caused by micro-aggressions is RBF. 

RBF symptoms can greatly affect one’s life, Brownlee explained. Symptoms include feelings of isolation, depression, development of ulcers and many more. 

In addition to discussing these themes in his research project, Brownlee focused on what it was like for graduate students of color working to get degrees while dealing with these things. 

The research Brownlee and his colleague collected were from eight interview subjects, all of which were graduate students of color. The ages of the participants ranged from their mid 20s to late 50s. 

Through these interviews, a number of themes and trends were explored: racial realism, whiteness as property, social change and counterstories. Brownlee went on to explain what all these were to the crowd gathered in the Pogue theater. 

Racial realism is the fact that race is integrated into all aspects of U.S. society. The interrogation of whiteness as property, “works towards dismantling the construction of whiteness as property,” Brownlee said. Counterstorytelling recognizes that there are multiple perspectives to one experience and focuses on the importance of sharing stories told by non-white Americans. Lastly, all of these students questioned experienced a desire for social change. 

It was all of these things experienced by the interviewed students that defined their experience in higher education. 

Through all of his research and findings, Brownlee and his colleague were able to conclude that students of color commonly find themselves in spaces constructed in the name of whiteness and privilege where they must maneuver. In addition to this, the students must deal with the added burden of RBF and everyday micro-aggressions. 

Hannah McDonald can be reached at

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