Insulting people without meaning to insult them. Time does not heal this wound; in fact, it cuts it deeper. This is the impact of microaggressions. Arkansas Tech University’s Department of Diversity and Inclusion is trying to reduce microaggressions on campus.
“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership,” said Derald Wing Sue, a professor of psychology and education in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Microaggressions became an issue on campus in the spring of 2015. This was one of the issues Dr. Marteze Hammonds, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, had to face in his new position.
The department says it is trying to educate students by having a Diversity and Inclusion Week, which is designed remove students from their own perspectives and put them into someone else’s.
Educating students about an issue such as microaggressions helps them realize how they may be excluding or insulting another person even though they don’t mean to.
“One of the most prominent microaggressions that we are teaching all across the nation is racial microaggressions,” Hammonds said. “On all the college campuses I have been on for example, we have a student of color that gives a presentation, and someone will say, ‘Oh my goodness, he/she speaks so articulate; the hidden message is why wouldn’t they?”
An example of a racial microaggression is an Asian American, born and raised in the United States, complimented for speaking “good English.” Hidden message: You are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.
An example of a gender microaggression would be a female physician wearing a stethoscope and being mistaken for a nurse. Hidden message: Women should occupy nurturing and not decision-making roles. Women are less capable than men.
Microaggressions are broken into three parts: microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations. Each can be focused at any marginalized group.
Microassaults are made up of repetitive phrases meant to wound someone over time. For example, saying “at least you tried” every time someone does not succeed at something implies they weren’t good at it in the first place.
Microassaults occur when a person’s identity is discriminated against. For example, if a Kaur wears a suit to school, someone may ask, “Do your people always dress like that?” This type of question implies how the Kaur dresses is not the same and therefore worse than the speaker’s clothing.
Microinvalidations are a person excluding another person’s feelings, thoughts or experiences. For example, asking an American-born Hispanic person what part of Mexico they come from implies the person is not American, although they were born here.
Microaggressions can be ingrained in people’s brains through the social and biological environments in which they were raised. Breaking the cycle of microaggressions is important, but it can only happen with education and patience.
For more examples of microaggressions, go online to www.psychologytoday.com.
For more information about microaggressions or the November 2 Diversity and Inclusion Week, call 479-880-4358.