Navigating Inequitable (Mis)Treatment and Racist Harassment in Higher Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Self-Decentered Autoethnographic Case

Navigating Inequitable (Mis)Treatment and Racist Harassment in Higher Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Self-Decentered Autoethnographic Case

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5934-8.ch011
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The SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic (late 2019 to the present) brought to the fore latent and externalized forms of racism and bias and xenophobia. The author experienced a range of inequitable mistreatment and racist harassment in her workplace in higher education during this time, including from her direct supervisor who engaged in a racist microassault along with excess work assignments (the work of several individuals or multiple FTEs) during multiple years of the pandemic. This work uses a self-decentered auto-ethnography to explore practical ways to address racism and discrimination in the workplace, through clear documentation, honest in-lane reportage, and other efforts up an escalatory ladder. This work highlights the challenges of working towards a solution in a bureaucracy with a mix of apparently conflicting objectives and foremost to protect the institution against lawsuits and negative publicity.
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For a multiracial pluralistic liberal democracy such as that of the U.S., to function at high efficiency, people need to be able to engage each other with various differences with mutual respect and trust. Without such collaboration and mutual understanding, human organizations will break down, and people will retreat to their respective social groupings. To this end, there has been a lot of work invested into research about racism and its causes, various types of antiracist pedagogies in education, and policy research. There has been work to de-bias language. The thinking is that outright racism is more of a rarity, and those with racist ideas have taken their ideas underground and expressed them more indirectly through microaggressions and microassaults of various types.

The social order though seems to be in constant flux. Humanity will be drawing lessons from the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic for many years to come. On the social front, the two years (and counting) of the pandemic—with necessary lockdowns and social distancing and masking measures followed by vaccination measures—have taken a toll on people’s social relationships. Politicians have emerged to take advantage of the social disarray, with political messaging to differentiate themselves from others and scapegoating particular minorities in order to gain political points (cater to their voter base and encourage their showing up to vote for them in the future). The hyper-suggestible and those with racist sympathies have taken the message as authorization to bully and harass and even attack others. Some of these racial tensions have also spilled into workplaces, with some engaging in microaggressions, microassaults, and other expressions of hate, perhaps influenced by macroaggressions from hate messaging from national leaders in the U.S., a country with its own fraught history of collective racism and intergenerational traumas. Researchers note the effects of such historical challenges.

Experiencing microaggressions may be particularly harmful to people who are members of social group categories (i.e., race, ethnicity/national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability/ability, etc.) with long histories of systemic and legal exclusion, physical marginalization, oppression, and state-sponsored violence or discrimination because they are markers of ongoing systems of oppression and inequalities. The continued normalization and acceptance of microaggressions serve to reinforce existing inequities. (Skinta & Torres-Harding, 2022, p. 3)

Many argue that it is not just the oppressed who are harmed by racism but that the perpetrators of the biases also are harmed because of compromises to their own characters and lives. Reparation is seen as a possible approach to making peoples whole (Klein, 1964, as cited in Rasmussen & Salhani, 2010, p. 505).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Color Blindness: The inability to see color, often used as a metaphor for not seeing others’ racial or ethnic or other aspects of social identity and so ideally treating everyone equally; in this concept, a person’s racial classification does not affect their social opportunities.

Inclusive Education: The fair treatment of diverse learners in all learning contexts.

Intersectionality: The interconnections between social identity categorizations such as race, gender, ethnicity, and class, sometimes leading to complex and overlapping discrimination or disadvantage or unfair treatment.

Racism: Antagonism towards another because of their apparent or actual membership in a racial or ethnic group.

Cisgender: A context where personal sexual identity and birth sex/born-gender align.

Diversity: Difference along one or a number of dimensions.

Allyship: The act of coming alongside a persecuted individual or group and providing effectual support, social association with persecuted others.

Microaffirmation: Acts of supporting others, through communications and other actions, such as by validating their opinions and achievements, engaging with them in friendly ways.

Ethnoracial Differences: Ethnicity and racial variations between people groups.

Reparations: The paying of money or other resources to right a past injustice or wrong.

White Fragility (White Sensitivity): Emotional defensiveness by a person who identifies as white when faced with issues of racial injustice and racial inequality.

Bias: Discriminatory treatment for or against another in a way that seems unfair.

Marginalization: Treating others as peripheral and unimportant.

Microaggression: A subtle or indirect hostile act or statement against a person of a marginalized group; this social slight may be purposeful or unintentional.

Antiracist Pedagogy: The design of learning to combat pervasive racism in order to promote social justice in a democratic (or other) society.

Overvalidation: A microaggression in which positive stereotypes are applied to a minority group and used as a basis of judgment of individuals from that minority group.

Discrimination: Biased treatment of others based on some dimensions of their identity (age, race, sex, class, religion, sexual identity, or other factors or combination of factors).

Color Muteness: The inability to discuss race in a particular social context.

Racist Trope: A race-based stereotype or representation of someone, often with negative implications.

Critical Race Theory: An interdisciplinary theory identifying inherent racism institutionalized in societies with potential interventions to address such acculturated biases.

Microassault: A blatant hostile act or statement against a person of a marginalized group that is apparently purposeful.

Ethnicity: Cultural traditions based on different histories, language, practices, beliefs, or ancestry.

Historical Guilt: Collective or individual senses of guilt over past historical occurrences that may have been perpetrated from those in one’s social group.

Social Identity: An individual’s self-concept from various memberships in different social groups and informed in part by others’ treatment of them.

Attributional Ambiguity: A lack of clarity if a microaggression was intentional or unintentional.

White Supremacy: Attributing values to different people or people groups based on their race and concluding with a sense of the inherent superiority of whites to people of color.

Stigma: A sense of dishonor or shame based on an attribute, circumstance, behavior, or association.

Inclusion: Equal access to learning opportunities for all.

Sexism: Discrimination based on a person’s gender.

Neutrality: Impartiality, unbiased, fair.

Stereotype Threat: A situation in which an individual is made aware of a derogatory stereotype about themselves that may affect their performance (such as in an academic context).

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