By: Sydney Collins, ‘20

Each year, students in the School of Arts and Sciences have the opportunity to present their individual research at the Student Symposium. Including a range of majors and disciplines, the Symposium allows students to show off the amount of work and time they have dedicated to subjects that are important to them.

For Sidra Siddiqui, ‘18, that subject stemmed from her observations of the way race is treated on college campuses.

“I had been reading a lot of stuff and hearing things on campus about how people don’t think there should be ‘safe spaces,’” Siddiqui said. “People were upset that black people all hang out together and that international students all hang out together. They were also upset over things like why there are black sororities and fraternities, saying that we don’t need them because it’s segregating more.” 

This observation spurred Siddiqui to look into the value behind these organized communities for her psychology honors research project. She knew that she wanted to conduct research about implicit bias and created the project, “Community Support: Defending Against Microaggressions and Internalized Racism.” 

“Internalized racism is when individuals take all of the negative stereotypes they see about their race in media and interactions between people around them and internalize the negative beliefs,” Siddiqui said. “Past research focuses on the negative effects of internalized racism. It causes a lot of heart problems, people are shown to have decreased wellbeing and decreased striving in college students.”

However, Siddiqui wanted to focus on why people internalize those beliefs and how a community of peers could help protect an individual from those negative effects. Siddiqui hypothesized that if an individual who suffers from internalized racism has a community of the same race who does not believe in those negative sentiments then it would protect that individual from the harmful effects of their own beliefs.

To begin conducting her research, Siddiqui recruited African American students from UR, VCU, and Virginia Union University and gave them a survey that asked them about their college experience as an African American.

“The first chunk of questions was about the frequencies of microaggressions given a scale from ‘never’ to ‘all the time’,” Siddiqui said. “There were questions like how many times someone says race doesn’t matter, how many times someone clutched their bag because of their race, or how many times someone assumed that they would not be as articulate as they really were.”

Siddiqui then included questions meant to discern the participants’ internalized racism by measuring the strength of their belief in stereotypes surrounding their race. After that, she asked them the same set of questions but requested that they put themselves in the position of someone in their community. Through this tactic, Siddiqui measured the internalized racism of their communities.

At the end of her research period, Siddiqui was pleased to find that her hypothesis was correct. 

“I found that the community is protecting the individual from a lot of the harmful effects,” she said. “And that’s not to say that your individual beliefs don’t matter, but if you look at the different subsets of flourishing—emotional, psychological, and social well-being—the individual internalized racism really only has a strong effect on the psychological well-being while community affects all three well-beings. So if you have a good community around you, it’s protecting you emotionally, psychologically, and socially.”  

Siddiqui hopes that this type of research will continue, as she believes that it is beneficial to learn more about the effects of internalized racism because it has been shown to have a significant effect on people’s health, such as heart disease.

“People have only focused on that effect, they’re not studying what happens or how things can prevent it from happening,” Siddiqui said. “I think that hopefully in the coming years that’s something that people begin to focus more on.”

She also believes that her work in the psychology and sociology fields will greatly help her in her future endeavors.

After graduating from UR, Siddiqui will attend the University of Chicago to pursue a Masters in social work.

“Ideally, I want to work in a nonprofit of some kind,” she said. “I think psychology really made me realize that I want to work one-on-one with refugees and immigrants probably in social work doing some form of counseling.”