Microaggressions Faced by International Students in the US with a Discussion on Critical Race Theory


  • Miguel Rodriguez California State University Dominguez Hills https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8908-628X
  • Mirna Mohamed Western Michigan University
  • Ramon Barthelemy University of Utah




microaggressions, discrimination, Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, people of color, international students


International students make up an increasingly large portion of the US student population, especially among graduate students studying the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. In this article we analyzed the microaggression experiences of 22 international students in graduate STEM programs at predominantly white institutions. International students, often people of color (PoC), may be subject to facing discrimination within their universities. Our results break down the different types of microaggressions that our participants reported experiencing from faculty, peers and students, both on and off campus. These experiences include individuals insulting a participant's country of origin, doubting their academic ability, threatening them, and otherwise discriminating against them. Each event reported by our participants is classified into a type of microaggression and is further discussed using Critical Race Theory to connect how international students' racialized and intersectional experiences are connected to the larger societal issues of racism in the US. 

Author Biographies

Miguel Rodriguez, California State University Dominguez Hills

Miguel Rodriguez is an assistant physics professor at California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). Prior to being at CSUDH, he was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Utah (UU). In 2022, he won a Postdoctoral Fulbright Fellowship and was a finalist for AAAS Science Technology and Policy Fellow, which he declined to be at CSUDH. He is also a 2022 Jhumki Basu Fellow for NARST and received an award for excellence of research at UU. Miguel is focused on two main research topics: the first is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM and the second is how students learn physics in small groups. 

Mirna Mohamed, Western Michigan University

Mirna Mohamed is a PhD student in the Mallinson Institute for Science Education at Western Michigan University. She recently graduated with her masters degree in physics in 2020 at the University of Utah, and worked there as an instructor, the following year. Her current research interests are studying Black and Latinx students in STEM. 

Ramon Barthelemy, University of Utah

Ramón Barthelemy is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah. Previous to his faculty position Ramón was a Fulbright Scholar in Finland and a Science Policy Fellow in the U.S. Department of Education. His work focuses on the lives, educational experiences, and career paths of marginalized students in physics and STEM. This has included work on LGBT+ people, graduate Students of Color, and women in physics. He was the 2020 recipient of the Fulbright Finland Alumni Award, the 2021 recipient of the AAPT Doc Brown Futures award, the 2022 WEPAN Research recipient, and became a fellow of the APS in 2022. 


Alexander, M. (2011). The new jim crow. Ohio St. J. Crim. L., 9, 7.

Bell, D. (2005). The derrick bell reader (Vol. 75). NYU Press.

Bennett, M. T. (1966). The immigration and nationality (McCarran-Walter) Act of 1952, as Amended to 1965. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 367(1), 127–136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/000271626636700114

Boyatzis, R. (1998). Thematic Analysis and Code Development. In Transforming Qualitative Information: Vols. x–xi. sage.

CDC. (2021). Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity.

Chaney, C., & Robertson, R. V. (2013). Racism and police brutality in America. Journal of African American Studies, 17(4), 480–505. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-013-9246-5

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing Grounded Theory A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis.

Collins, P. H. (2002). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. routledge.

Combahee River Collective. (1978). The Combahee River Collective Statement: Black Feminist Organizing In The Seventies and Eighties. Kitchen Table/Women of Color, 272–282.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241. https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039

Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (1995). Critical race theory. The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New York, 276–291.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (Vol. 20). New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1ggjjn3

Dimandja, O. O. (2017). “ We Are Not that Different from You”: A Phenomenological Study of Undergraduate Muslim International Student Campus Experiences. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Division, U. N. S. (2019). Methodology--standard country or area codes for statistical use (M49).

Ee, J. (2019). “He’s an idiot!” Experiences of International Students in the United States. Journal of International Students, 2013 Vol. 3 (1), 72. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v3i1.522

Gieg, S., Oyarzun, L., Reardon, J., & Gant, J. C. (2016). The impact of student organizations on sense of belonging for international students. Journal of the Student Personnel Association at Indiana University, 1–14.

Gomez, M. L., Khurshid, A., Freitag, M. B., & Lachuk, A. J. (2011). Microaggressions in graduate students’ lives: How they are encountered and their consequences. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(8), 1189–1199. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2011.06.003

Hanassab, S. (2006). Diversity, international students, and perceived discrimination: Implications for educators and counselors. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(2), 157–172. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315305283051 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315305283051

Harwood, S. A., Huntt, M. B., Mendenhall, R., & Lewis, J. A. (2012). Racial microaggressions in the residence halls: Experiences of students of color at a predominantly White university. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(3), 159. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028956

Hobbs, F., & Stoops, N. (2002). Demographic trends in the 20th century (Vol. 4). US Census Bureau.

Huang, R. (2016). RQDA: R-based Qualitative Data Analysis.

Hurtado, S., Clayton-Pedersen, A. R., Allen, W. R., & Milem, J. F. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. The Review of Higher Education, 21(3), 279–302. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.1998.0003

Jung, E., Hecht, M. L., & Wadsworth, B. C. (2007). The role of identity in international students’ psychological well-being in the United States: A model of depression level, identity gaps, discrimination, and acculturation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 31(5), 605–624. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2007.04.001

Kim, S., & Kim, R. H. (2010). Microaggressions experienced by international students attending US institutions of higher education.

Ku, H.-Y., Lahman, M. K. E., Yeh, H.-T., & Cheng, Y.-C. (2008). Into the academy: Preparing and mentoring international doctoral students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(3), 365–377. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-007-9083-0

Lee, J. (2006). International student experiences: Neo-racism and discrimination. International Higher Education, 44.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381–409. https://doi.org/10.1007/s DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-005-4508-3

Martirosyan, N. M., Bustamante, R. M., & Saxon, D. P. (2019). Academic and social support services for international students: Current practices. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 172–191. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i1.275

Martirosyan, N. M., Hwang, E., & Wanjohi, R. (2015). Impact of English proficiency on academic performance of international students. Journal of International Students, 5(1), 60–71. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v5i1.443

McIntosh, P. (2007). White privilege and male privilege. Race, Ethnicity and Gender: Selected Readings, 377–385.

Mesidor, J. K., & Sly, K. F. (2016). Factors that contribute to the adjustment of international students. Journal of International Students, 6(1), 262–282. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v6i1.569

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2020). Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2019.

Poyrazli, S., & Grahame, K. M. (2007). Barriers to adjustment: Needs of international students within a semi-urban campus community. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(1), 28.

Pyle, J. J. (1998). Race, equality and the rule of law: Critical race theory’s attack on the promises of liberalism. BCL Rev., 40, 787.

Reid, L. D., & Radhakrishnan, P. (2003). Race matters: The relation between race and general campus climate. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 9(3), 263. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/1099-9809.9.3.263

Rodriguez, M., Barthelemy, R. S., & McCormick, M. (2021). Critical race and feminist standpoint theories in physics education research: A historical review and potential applications. Physical Review Physics Education Research. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.18.013101

Shapiro, T., Meschede, T., & Osoro, S. (2013). The roots of the widening racial wealth gap: Explaining the black-white economic divide.

Sherry, M., Thomas, P., & Chui, W. H. (2010). International students: A vulnerable student population. Higher Education, 60(1), 33–46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-009-9284-z DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-009-9284-z

Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate: The Experiences of African American College Students. The Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/095183998236926 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/095183998236926

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271

Sue, D. W., & Spanierman, L. (2020). Microaggressions in everyday life. John Wiley & Sons.

Tessler, H., Choi, M., & Kao, G. (2020). The anxiety of being Asian American: Hate crimes and negative biases during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(4), 636–646. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-020-09541-5

Tran, L. T. (2020). Teaching and engaging international students: People-to-people connections and people-to-people empathy. Journal of International Students, 10(3), XII--XVII. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i3.2005

Truth, S. (1851). Ain ’ t I a Woman ? May, 28–29.

Wallis, J. (2016). America’s original sin: Racism, white privilege, and the bridge to a new America. Brazos Press.

Yeo, H. T., Mendenhall, R., Harwood, S. A., & Huntt, M. B. (2019). Asian international student and Asian American student: Mistaken identity and racial microaggressions. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 39–65. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i1.278




How to Cite

Rodriguez, M., Mohamed, M., & Barthelemy, R. (2023). Microaggressions Faced by International Students in the US with a Discussion on Critical Race Theory. Journal of International Students, 13(3), 236–253. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v13i3.4620

Most read articles by the same author(s)