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Inclusive, Socially Just Teaching: Microagressions

Find resources to guide your approach to classroom approaches


Microaggressions are "brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intention or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults that potentially have harmful or unpleasant psychological impact on the target person or group." (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000) It's important to note that microaggressions are defined by the impact, not the intent. They can have long-lasting adverse effects for those on the receiving end, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and mental health problems. 

Some microaggressions stem from implicit biases, which refers to those unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes, and categories toward other individuals or groups based on their identity, such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic level, or physical disability. These assumptions affect behavior and understanding, and are particularly damaging in higher education, as faculty may make assumptions about students’ academic capabilities, which often impede a student’s potential for academic success.

Common categorizations in North America include the following:

  • Ascription of intelligence (e.g. unintelligent or smarter than average based on appearance or accent)
  • Denial of racial reality (e.g. dismissing claims that race was relevant to understanding a student’s experience)
  • Denial or devaluing of experience or culture (e.g. ignoring the existence, histories, cultures of groups of people – assuming that others are like you)
  • Making judgments about belonging (e.g. assuming people are foreign or don’t speak English well because of their appearance; questioning someone’s membership status such as “you don’t look disabled” or “you don’t seem that gay to me” or “if you were Jewish, wouldn’t you do x?”)
  • Assumption of criminality (e.g. guarding belongings more carefully when around certain groups or expressing fear of certain groups)
  • Assumption of immorality (e.g. assuming that poor people, undereducated people, LGBTQ people, or people of color are more likely to be devious, untrustworthy, or unethical)

Read these articles by Berk and Davis & Mirik for specific examples. It is important to note that microaggressions can be blatant or subtle but always impact targeted students' sense of belonging and disrupt their learning and engagement with course and peers.

Examples of Microaggressions

Look for microaggressions in your actions and among students. In addition to monitoring yourself, listen for how students talk to each other and examples they use in face to face and online interactions. Some things to attend include:

Making comments about Black women's hair

Mispronouncing names

Misgendering people, especially after being corrected many times 

Pathologizing BIPOC culture

Scheduling group meetings, tests, and project due dates on religious or cultural holidays

Denying the experiences of minoritized students or colleagues by questioning the credibility and validity of their stories

Using heterosexist examples or sexist language 

Singling students out in class because of their backgrounds

Asking people with disabilities to identify themselves in class

Requiring students with disabilities to perform additional steps

Assuming lack of motivation for students with ADHD or other executive functioning related disabilities

Not using a microphone because you assume everyone can hear you

During a presentation, telling everyone to read the slide for themselves. Students with disabilities may not be able to see the slide or read it in the time allotted.

Requiring everyone to have their camera on during an online class at all times

Sharing PDF’s that are not accessible, such as poorly photocopied chapters from books

Complaining about accommodation requests 

Making assumptions or voicing biases can also be aggressive:

Assuming criminality of BIPOC -  "I don't mean to be racist, but Black people live in neighborhoods with lots of crime."

Assuming incompetence of BIPOC or women - "Latinx students plagiarize because they don't understand the language."

Making assumptions about others based on their backgrounds - "You're Muslim. Shouldn't you wear a hijab?"

Assuming the gender identity of any student. 

Making assumptions about what it means to be an adult, which can be ableist and rigid.

Assuming sinister stereotypes or negative attributes of Jewish students.


Learn and practice the RAVEN framework (Wood & Harris, 2020) for disrupting racial microaggressions

Redirect the interaction

Ask probing questions

Values clarification (identify shared values)

Emphasize your thoughts and feelings

Next steps (suggest what the aggressor can do)

Prevent aggressions

Do not assume that groups you are discussing are not represented in the classroom

Do not assume that all students have intimate knowledge of your version of US or Canadian culture

Understand that when you present your opinions, you do so from a position of power and can silence students

Establish norms for discussion and restoration

Set and express high expectations for all students

Treat all students with the assumption of competence

Refrain from using ableist, sexist, and heterosexist language

Read all visuals being presented

Use a microphone at all times