An investigation of microaggression frequency and stress among Chinese international university students and the impacts

Pei, Shaohua
Major Professor
Linda S. Hagedorn
Committee Member
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This study examined the microaggression experience of Chinese international college students during their stay in the U.S. The goals of the present study were: First, to explore the types of microaggressions that Chinese international students frequently experience both on and off campus; second, to analyze the stress scales of microaggressions pertaining to Chinese international students; third, to explore how Chinese international students navigate the process of dealing with microaggressions; fourth, to examine how microaggression stress and perceived institutional social support may impact the satisfaction of Chinese international students with their host institutions and their overall academic journey in the U.S.; fifth, to explore the support services Chinese international students expect to receive when dealing with microaggressions; finally, to provide both higher education institutions including faculty and staff members as well as Chinese international students practical implications on how to reduce microaggressions.

To address the research questions, an international student minority microaggression process model was adopted as the conceptual framework. This model was developed based on Meyer’s (2003) minority stress model, Sue’s (2010b) microagression process model and the model minority myth (S. Lee, 2007). An explanatory sequential mixed-methods design was utilized to investigate the perceived microaggressions at a large public Mid-Western research university (MU) with over 4,100 international students, among which nearly 1600 are Chinese international students.

An online survey was first conducted to gain an overall understanding of the salient types of microaggressions pertaining to Chinese international students, stress caused by microaggressions, students’ perceived institutional social support from family, friends, and the university, and their level of satisfaction with the host institution and overall academic journey in the U.S. Twelve follow-up individual interviews were conducted to further understand the ways in which Chinese international students navigate the process when microaggression incidents occurred.

Results of the survey revealed that no statistical significant differences in the frequency of microaggression experience were found between undergraduate and graduate students as well as female and male students. Follow-up interviews indicated further evidence that Chinese international students who have been in the U.S. for a longer time perceived more microaggressions comparing to those who just arrived in the U.S. Interviews revealed nine types of microaggressions frequently reported by Chinese international students: Assumption of intelligence, lack of trust from professor, disrespect from students, being ignored, difficulty in building friendships, inconsistent grading practices and expectations, being ridiculed for accent, denied opportunities and insulting racial slurs and gestures. The results indicated that Chinese international students felt higher levels of stresses when the microaggression incidents were related to fewer opportunities and unfair treatment. Overall, Chinese international students showed a high level of satisfaction with their academic study with the host institution.

Findings of this study contributed to the existing literature in regard to the experience of Chinese international students, which is crucial to the overall process of internationalization of higher education institutions. This study not only provides practical insights for researchers and practitioners working with international students but also proposes implications to Chinese international students. Future research is recommended to adopt a longitudinal approach to track the process of how Chinese international students navigate the microaggressions.