Iowa State student experiences racial microaggressions on campus


Students can be impacted by racial bias during their college experience. This bias can be evident in various ways.

Nitanga Safi

Racial bias can impact the student experience in various ways. For one Iowa State student, this bias left her feeling like less than a human being.

Nia Johnson, senior in chemical engineering, said she experienced racial bias in the form of microaggressions on campus in the Iowa State University Bookstore in the Memorial Union. 

Microaggressions are defined as a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority), according to Merriam-Webster

“I’m used to being overlooked as a Black woman,” Johnson said. “This is not the first time that I have had an experience similar to this incident at the Bookstore, but this specific incident, I felt the need to speak out about.” 

Johnson said she noticed that during the time she spent in the Bookstore, she was only greeted by one female employee. She said employees would look at her and not say anything. She walked through to the back of the store and walked back to the front without being asked whether or not she needed help finding anything.

Johnson also said the Bookstore did have multiple employees as well as customers at that time. 

She explained that employees were saying “Hello” to everyone else around her and also taking the time to ask if they needed help.  

“I felt hurt and dehumanized,” Johnson said.

When asked about this incident, Rita Phillips, Iowa State University Bookstore director, said they could not comment on a specific complaint. 

Phillips said they have received complaints regarding customer service on a variety of issues. They require all students and full-time employees to go through a training called GIFT throughout the year. The training is continuous because there are new hires every semester.

“All Iowa State University Bookstore employees are required to complete Managing Bias and Title IX training every year,” Phillips said. 

Johnson had reached out to the Iowa State Daily to speak about her experience, but she did not stop there. She said she was also able to report the incident to the Office of Equal Opportunity through the help of one of her professors. 

Amber Davis, administrative specialist of the Equal Opportunity Office, said there are different ways someone can report an incident: email, phone call or through the Campus Climate reporting system. 

After a report has been made, Davis said their office emails the person back so they can schedule a meeting with them, whether that is on the phone, virtually or even face-to-face if necessary. 

The steps that follow after the meeting all depend on what the case is, the person who reported it and what they want to happen afterward. 

“It is important for our office to exist because we make sure that everyone who is affiliated with the university maintains respect,” Davis said.

Davis also said the Equal Opportunity Office provides workshops and training for departments who request it; clubs and organizations can also request these workshops.

Johnson said she felt the need to speak out about her experience because of all the younger students of color that attend Iowa State. She explained she feels it is important for the younger students of color to feel accepted on campus, especially the ones that are far away from their homes.

She also said the Bookstore employees were being racially biased, even if they weren’t aware they were doing so.

“White people don’t typically know about microaggressions — what they are, how it makes people feel, how they can be aware of it and not partake in it,” Johnson said.