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Information about Microaggressions in the Classrooms: Information and Responses
Microaggressions in the Classroom: Information and Responses – CLICK HERE

Here at Fletcher, we try to create an environment where diversity is valued, and everyone feels included. However, sometimes microaggressions occur within either the classroom or the community. This can create an uncomfortable and/or stressful learning environment. Microaggressions and their variations are defined below:

Microaggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional,” (Sue, et al., 2007) that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative slights and insults that may have a harmful psychological impact on the target person or group.

Microinsults are behaviors, actions, or verbal remarks that convey rudeness, insensitivity, or demean a person’s group or social identity or heritage (Sue, et. al., 2007).

Microinvalidations are actions that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of people who represent different groups (Sue, et. al., 2007).

Common microaggressions reported by students that occur in the classroom include:

  • Mispronunciation of students’ names after they have repeatedly corrected you
  • Referring to students by the wrong pronouns
  • Calling on specific students during class based on race, ethnicity, gender, culture, or country of origin
  • Scheduling exams or papers on religious holidays
  • Using heterosexist/heteronormative examples in class
  • Using sexist language in class
  • Using inappropriate humor that degrades students from different groups
  • Denying the experiences of students by questioning the credibility and validity of their stories.
  • Assigning projects that ignore differences in socioeconomic class status and inadvertently penalize students with fewer financial resources.
  • And more broadly, making assumptions about people’s experiences and/or backgrounds

What do you do if you hear a microaggression?
As a faculty member, you are responsible for the classroom environment. If you or a student commits a microaggression, it is important that you respond as soon as possible. Remember, it is not about winning, but rather education and understanding a new perspective. Additionally, it can sometimes take a little while for the receiver to recognize and process a microaggression. As such, the student may want to discuss the event privately with you after class.

However, if you notice the microaggression during class, you should respond to it. Being passive may indicate a lack of empathy or compassion for the targets of the microaggression.

When you respond, focus on the event, not the person.

Below are some things that you can do if you hear a microaggression (adapted from Souza, 2018):

  • Ask clarifying questions to assist with understanding intentions.
    o “I want to make sure that I understand what you were saying. Were you saying that…?”
  • Come from curiosity not judgment. Listen actively and openly to their response. If they disagree with your paraphrase and clarify a different meaning, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment to encourage learning.
    o “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”
  • If they agree with your paraphrase, explore their intent behind making the comment.
    o “Can you tell me what you were you hoping to communicate with that comment?”
    o “Can you please help me understand what you meant by that?”
  • Tell what you observed as problematic in a factual manner.
    o “I noticed that . . .”
  • Impact exploration: ask for, and/or state, the potential impact of such a statement or action on others.
    o “What do you think people think when they hear that type of comment?”
    o “As you know, everything speaks. What message do you think such a comment sends?”
    o “What impact do you think that comment could have on …”
  • Own your own thoughts and feelings around the impact.
    o “When I hear your comment I think/feel…”
    o “Many people might take that comment to mean…”
    o “In my experience, that comment can perpetuate negative stereotypes and assumptions about… I would like to think that is not your intent.”
  • Next steps: Request appropriate action be taken.
    o “Our class is a learning community, and such comments make it difficult for us to focus on learning because people feel offended. Can you please think about refraining from stating your thoughts in that manner in the future or reframing your ideas next time?”
    o “I encourage you to revisit your view on X as we discuss these issues more in class.”
    o “I’d appreciate it if you’d consider using a different term because it is inconsistent with our course agreement regarding X…” (Souza, 2018).

It is important that when you hear a microaggression, you name it.
This is also true if you say a microaggression. If you accidentally make a mistake, it is important that you own it, apologize, learn from it, and move on. You should not signal out people in front of the class, but you should address your comment, apologize, and explain why it is considered a microaggression.

If someone notes that you committed a microaggression either during or after class, do not get defensive. Recognize the impact of your comment, apologize, and learn from the experience.

We all make mistakes, but it is important that we learn from each one and work to create a more inclusive community for all students, staff, and faculty members.

References

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, 60‐73.
Souza, T. (2018). Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: Taking ACTION. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/responding-to-microaggressions-in-the-classroom/
Sue, D.W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A.I., Nadal, K.L., & Torino, G.C. (2007). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American Experience. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13(1), 72‐81.
Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C.M., Torino, G.C., Bucceri, J.M., Holder, A.M., Nadal, K.L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286.

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