FSU Office of Research Development to fund research of microaggressions and bystander intervention

From left, Associate Professor Lara Perez-Felkner, Associate Professor Lyndsay Jenkins and Assistant Professor Laura Reid Marks.
From left, Associate Professor Lara Perez-Felkner, Associate Professor Lyndsay Jenkins and Assistant Professor Laura Reid Marks.

A Florida State University program to promote interdisciplinary research will fund a trio of College of Education researchers investigating subtle racial insults and bystander intervention.

The researchers will investigate brief, commonplace behavior that communicates negative racial slights — called racial microaggressions — and how bystanders can step in to disarm the situation.

Assistant Professor Laura Reid Marks, Associate Professor Lyndsay Jenkins and Associate Professor Lara Perez-Felkner developed their proposal after a networking event known as Collaborative Collision, which brings together experts from various disciplines and gives them support to pursue interdisciplinary research ideas. The event that generated their project focused on anti-racism, equity and inclusion.

Previous research has documented the negative effects and prevalence of racial microaggressions on college campuses, so examining ways to reduce them is directly in line with the principles of anti-racism, equity and inclusion, they wrote in their proposal.

“Racial microaggressions are psychologically harmful to college students of color,” Marks said. “Past studies have shown that experiences with racial microaggressions increase anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as stress for college students. Until this point, the research on intervening when one witnesses someone engaging in a racial microaggression has been mostly theoretical.”

There has been little investigation into how to prevent racial microaggression or how bystanders can intervene when they see it taking place. The study will use a model of bystander invention often used in research into other types of aggression, such as bullying or sexual harassment, to examine racial microaggressions and interventions, with the goal of informing the development of a large-scale intervention study targeted at training bystanders on how to intervene.

“There are many barriers that prevent people from intervening in difficult social situations involving racial microaggressions,” Jenkins said. “We hope to learn more about the steps leading up to intervention and what promotes intervention to help remove as many barriers as possible.”

The researchers received a grant of about $25,000 in funding from FSU’s Office of Research Development (ORD).

“The Collaborative Collision Seed Fund serves a lot like an internal venture capital fund,” said Mike Mitchell, ORD’s Strategic Initiatives Manager. “By strategically investing in early-stage research teams, we can accelerate their development and demonstrate their ability to conduct the kind of highly impactful research that leads to external funding success.”

This project brings together experts from counseling psychology, school psychology and higher education.

“Our project is enriched by integrating multiple methodologies and disciplines and has the potential to advance our understanding of effective strategies to curb racial microaggressions on college campuses,” Perez-Felkner said. “We appreciate the opportunity to align our interdisciplinary expertise and train graduate students through this exciting collaboration.”

Visit the Collaborative Collision website for more information about the program, including previous and upcoming topics.