Students Speak Up About Microaggressions 

A message from your peers 

By Savanah Tillberg, Arts and Culture Editor

As the student voice of Lakehead, The Argus strives to include the thoughts and perspectives from a broad spectrum of our school community. This week’s paper highlights racism as a prominent issue both globally, and within our own local community. The Argus interviewed students who were willing to speak up about their own experiences with racism both on and off campus, and also offer their thoughts on how we can take steps towards change. In respect for the students who wished their contributions to this article be made anonymous, the names and genders of those students will not be published.

Microaggressions, are understood by social scientists as intentional and unintentional everyday slights, either verbal, nonverbal or environmental that convey negative, offensive, and disrespectful messages to targets within marginalized groups. An international student from Pakistan remarks, “I experience instances of macroaggression almost daily on campus.” The causes of microagressions are often not derived from malicious intent by the perpetrator, instead, the actions which cause them are most frequently the products of deeply rooted socially constructed assumptions. However, these unconscious provocations cause very conscious pain and irritation to their targets. When reflecting on their experiences of microaggressions, this student noted, Honestly, I have gotten used to them now. It has almost become part of everyday life. But I stay calm and tend to ignore the person and I give them benefit of the doubt, because usually people act in a certain manner due to some hardship they are going through, at least that is my opinion.”

A student from India said,I’ve definitely had experiences with microaggressions. When I’m meeting people and I have a conversation with them, and I tell them that I’m Indian, sometimes I can see [their] reactions [that] they don’t believe me… because maybe I don’t look like a stereotypical Indian. One student said to me, ‘well you don’t look like an Indian, you look more mixed race’.” This student continued to explain to The Argus that it’s not appropriate for other people to define you before you define yourself. Responding to such remarks can be equally as challenging as receiving them. This student shared their approach: I don’t usually like to be in a conflict, but I [do] like to correct people [in a] polite way – so I’d tell them I’m Indian and that lots of people in India have [varying] skin tones.”

This student explained that the most common way in which they’ve personally experienced microaggressions is through the outlandish questions they are often asked. “I was working in a small town with [very few] visible minorities,” they explained, “and my boss …one minute after I met him, he asked ‘oh, so are you Hindu?’’ The inherently personal nature of that question caught the student off guard, and they continued, “I wouldn’t ask just anybody if they’re Christian… It’s a personal question. What if I’m not? What if I’m an atheist?” In fact, this particular student has faced no shortage of misguided questions. They told The Argus, “some people ask questions that are so weird, and so personal and I’m just not sure how to answer [them]. For example, I remember that there was this lady on campus that I knew, and she just asked me ‘oh, so are you going to get an arranged marriage?’” The student explained that such choices like that are deeply personal and are reflections of stereotypes that are widely divorced from a genuine understanding of the particular experiences of individuals. This student suggests that people try to imagine someone asking themselves the same question they are about to ask someone else, or the same statement they are about to make, in an attempt to think about their own feelings in that situation.

Tannis Kastern, president of the Lakehead University Native Student Association and a member of the Anishinabek nation put it beautifully when she said, “I try to be mindful when I speak, to watch how I word things.” Kastern acknowledges the progression of mindfulness within our community, but she says we still have a long way to go.

Kastern told The Argus that it was only this past year that she was able to get the Fort William First Nations flag hung in the Agora, among the flags of dozens of other countries on Thunder Bay’s campus, which is located on Fort William First Nation’s territory. She added that she helped to generate cohesive support within the student community, to include both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students as a part of a Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) initiative, in building a canoe to be displayed on campus. She explained that upon the completion of the canoe, maintenance hung it on display without consulting their groups and thus they were not able to carry out a traditional ceremony and acknowledgement. In addition, they were not given permission by administration to hold their ceremony in the Agora, but rather instructed to do their traditional celebration in the Outpost, LUSU’s student pub. Kastern felt insulted by the suggestion, replying “I don’t take my medicine and my drums to a bar… it was a slap in the face.” Kastern did acknowledge that in many instances, Lakehead University has been very respectful to First Nations Peoples, but emphasizes that they continue to make mistakes as well.

Kastern explains that she believes training for LU’s administration and faculty as well as LUSU’s coordinators and staff would go a long way in limiting the actions which cause the microaggressions and lateral violence experienced on campus. Kastern said, “When times change, and everything is changing, and you have new students coming in – why wouldn’t you be required to update your credentials and your training?” She continued, “Let’s work together to educate the campus community so that those racialized and discriminative [instances] don’t happen, or at least [have] less of them.” 

Kastern’s message to students who experience racism and microaggressions is: “Don’t let violence and lateral violence silence you. Find your supports, find other people who have been through those experiences, and get that strength from them and surround yourself with people who value your presence, your input, and your opinion.” 

In regard to finding a solution to racism within our community, one of LU’s international students had this to say: “Every person should think carefully before speaking. Actively listen and learn from other’s experiences. I think the more we work together and the more we do cross cultural activities, the easier this problem will become. I think listening and learning from others helps a lot. Our differences should bring us closer not take us farther apart.”


Photo Essay,

By Sarah McPherson

The photographs accompanying this article aim to discuss the restrictions that racialized and indigenous individuals growing up in Western and predominately white cultures face. These photographs also aim to discuss how the growth of racialized and indigenous persons is limited by the expectations of predominately white societies.