"It was as if I wasn't there" - Experiences of everyday racism in a Swedish medical school

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Jan 2;270:113678. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.113678. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

The aim of this study was to explore and analyze how cultural/ethnic minority students at a Swedish medical school perceive and make sense of educational experiences they viewed as related to their minority position. We interviewed 18 medical students (10 women, and 8 men), who self-identified as coming from minority backgrounds. Data were collected and analyzed simultaneously, inspired by constructivist grounded theory methodology. The concepts 'everyday racism' and 'racial microaggressions' served as a theoretical framework for understanding how inequities were experienced and understood. Participants described regularly encountering subtle adverse treatment from supervisors, peers, staff, and patients. Lack of support from bystanders was a common dimension of their stories. These experiences marked interviewees' status as 'Other' and made them feel less worthy as medical students. Interviewees struggled to make sense of being downgraded, excluded, and discerned as different, but seldom used terms like being a victim of discrimination or racism. Instead, they found other explanations by individualizing, renaming, and relativizing their experiences. Our results indicate that racialized minority medical students encounter repeated practices that, either intentionally or inadvertently, convey disregard and sometimes contempt based on ideas about racial and/or cultural 'Otherness'. However, most hesitated to name the behaviors and comments experienced as "discriminatory" or "racist", likely because of prevailing ideas about Sweden and, in particular, medical school as exempt from racism, and beliefs that racial discrimination can only be intentional. To counteract this educational climate of exclusion medical school leadership should provide supervisors, students, and staff with theoretical concepts for understanding discrimination and racism, encourage them to engage in critical self-reflection on their roles in racist power relations, and offer training for bystanders to become allies to victims of racism.

Keywords: Everyday racism; Interviews; Medical education; Minority students; Racial microaggressions; Sweden.