As a first-generation college student, Camisha Fagan had few resources that she could turn to for guidance as she made her way through her undergraduate studies. But the double major in sociology and English found that support in the McNair Program. The program prepares undergraduate students for doctoral studies by involving them in research programs. It's goal is to increase the rolls of first-generation and underrepresented students in graduate programs.
This summer, Fagan studied microaggressions — derogatory, negative, or hostile comments — directed toward queer black males. Here, she shares how she came into the sociology fold and where it led her these past few months as a McNair Scholar.
I met sociology professor Anna Smedley-Lopez during my first semester at UNLV when I took “Ethnic Groups in Contemporary Societies.” She’s such a passionate teacher and mentor, and she’s one of the reasons why I decided to major in sociology.
I got involved in UNLV SLICES, a community-based research initiative in which students work with community members to address the inequalities and barriers that they face. There I met Matt Della Sala, assistant director for undergraduate research in UNLV’s Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach. He told me about the McNair Program and encouraged me to apply.
For my McNair project, I decided to conduct focus groups to study microaggressions, derogatory messages discrediting a person’s identity, that queer black males experience within black communities and society at large. For example, when someone says something like, “That’s so gay!” that person saying it is implying that being gay is bad. That’s a microaggression.
Because the prefix “micro-” is part of the word, folks often interpret the impact of microaggressions to be small and therefore inconsequential. But “micro-” is used only to highlight the subtle manner in which this form of discrimination occurs. Microaggressions are difficult to notice and identify, though they’re hurtful just the same.
Microaggressions are researched heavily, but typically only in the fields of psychology and education. I’ve taken a more sociological approach by focusing on the communities that give rise to microaggressions and paying attention to the words these groups choose because language is culturally transmitted.
I’ve come to realize how important it is to be dedicated and invested in your work and in yourself because the field I’m entering is very competitive.
The McNair Program helped me focus on improving this research while preparing for graduate school. The program has also provided me with a great support network of friends. It’s helpful to be able to turn to peers because they know exactly what you’re going through.
Knowing what I know now, my advice to other students is to focus first on being a student. Sometimes that means staying in and studying rather than going out, but it definitely pays off, especially in the McNair Program.
It has been a privilege to be in the McNair Program. As a first-generation college student, it’s been great to have so many resources available to me because I am the first person in my family going through this process, so I don’t have the guidance from parents or siblings that other students might have. The McNair Program has given me that as well.