How Suffolk University is responding
to the coronavirus outbreak
Interview by Andrea Grant
Photography by V.L. Kaiser
Alexandria Onuoha is a PhD student in applied developmental psychology at Suffolk. Her work in the Youth Equity and Sexuality Lab explores the impact of far-right ideologies on Black women college students. It’s a topic close to her heart.
Onuoha shared how coming of age in a divisive political climate and amid the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement helped shape how she thinks about the college experience—and healthy adolescent development.
Q:How did you get started in your research?
A:I first noticed what I feel is a lack of protection for Black women college students as an undergraduate majoring in dance and psychology at a small liberal arts college.
I wrote an article called ‘Dancing Around White Supremacy’ about [inclusion] issues in my program. That piece sparked a lot of conversation and led to institutional change that promoted the well-being of students of color.
Then, leading up to the 2020 presidential election, people’s true colors came out. I saw a lot of disgusting things directed toward Black women online. We would get more pushback than others for our comments, and that pushback would often include stereotypes.
Feminist scholar Moya Bailey coined the term ‘misogynoir’ to explain the blend of racist misogyny directed toward Black women. I eventually realized I was seeing far right misogynoir—which I define as a direct hate and prejudice toward Black women from far-right groups and individuals who want to eradicate a multiracial democracy, and will do so through violence, digitally and in person.
Q:What are some of the harmful effects far right attacks can have on Black women as they pursue higher education?
A:Everybody deserves an education free from hate and harm. College is a time to learn, have fun, and make lifelong friends.
But if institutions don’t take far-right ideologies seriously, Black women will always feel marginalized. If hate speech, violence, and online harassment are not punished, incidents will be reported less often. It’s also important to look at the attitudes and opinions that are amplified throughout campus. If more ‘palatable’ forms of far-right speech that make marginalized students feel less safe are the norm, that’s harmful, too.
There are a lot of studies that show the academic success of Black women, and that’s great. But there are also studies that show that their experiences with exclusion and microaggressions impact their sense of belonging. If institutions aren’t checking racist and misogynist behavior—in person and online—it makes it much harder for students to grow and learn. That’s why I’m doing a qualitative study in Suffolk’s Youth Equity and Sexuality Lab, looking at how far right ideologies impact Black women college students and their mental health.
Q:You mentioned protection. Why is that a key component of campus diversity and inclusion efforts?
A:Diversity, inclusion, and equity are great social justice buzzwords, but protection is the action component.
It’s great to want diversity on campus, but what happens when something adverse transpires? Is there support for students of color and LGBTQIA+ individuals within your institution? What is going to make every student feel safe?
Q:What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for higher-ed institutions in truly carrying out their missions to create inclusive campuses?
A:Unlearning a racist system takes more than reading a book. But real changes are possible. We need to have compassion, listen to youth, and acknowledge anti-Blackness and the other axes of domination embedded in the system. We must create tangible things—events, programming, and policies—and involve students in that process.
Q:Do you have advice for students who want to engage in anti-racist work on their campuses?
A:Pay attention to your emails! And get in touch with the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion—they have a plethora of opportunities for students to get involved.
Find your niche. Maybe you’re not the best speaker—maybe you’re an artist and you can be the person who designs an event flyer. Find what you can contribute and find your voice at Suffolk and beyond.