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:
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.
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:
Misgendering people, especially after being corrected many times
Pathologizing BIPOC culture
Scheduling group meetings, tests, and project due dates on religious or cultural holidays
Using inappropriate humor that degrades any group of people
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 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)
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