The Collegian
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

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OPINION: It’s Time to Address Microaggressions

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

Angry. Frustrated. Exhausted. Anxious. Lonely. 

As two students from marginalized communities (disabled, Asian and international) at the University of Richmond, these are just some of the everyday emotions that we experience, hear about their microaggression experience from our friends or witness in and outside of the classroom — emotions that are caused by microaggressions. Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages. 

Throughout our time at UR, we have both faced microaggressions that have left us speechless, unable to understand what some of our peers have said. Our friends from marginalized communities have often shared how they have felt worse about themselves after walking away from conversations that included microaggressions. 

These microaggressions are frequently ignored and left unaddressed, causing those who experience them (faculty, staff or students) to feel as though they aren’t worthy of their

successes or their status in life. In many situations, those of us who face this type of

discrimination feel alienated and don’t understand how to react.

We asked professor Mariela Mendez of the Latin American, Latino and Iberian studies department about her experience as a faculty. In an email, she reflected about her experiences to us: “As Latinx faculty on this campus, I have often been in situations where an apparently innocent comment makes me feel ill at ease, alienated, unseen and unheard. It took me many, many years to learn to spot these incidents for what they were — microaggressions — and I still find myself sometimes unable to deal with them in a healthy and productive way.”

People from all walks of life can unintentionally (or intentionally), cause microaggressions. Although an unintentional microaggression may be committed out of ignorance, this doesn’t excuse someone from causing it; rather, it speaks to the necessity for others to speak out and for that person to be more aware of how they communicate with others, especially those in marginalized communities. 

Following the riot at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, this country feels more polarized than ever before. A lack of understanding and the use of hateful rhetoric can breed the kind of violence we saw in the attacks at the Capitol. But not all aggressions are so obvious. 

Not all of the things that hurt involve yelling and violence. It may seem impossible for us to have an impact on events such as those in D.C., but by learning to define, see and avoid microaggressions, we can impact the well-being of those around us, and we can help do our own small part to resolve the polarization that is causing so much pain across the country. 

If you are a faculty or staff member at UR, you have a responsibility to lead by demonstrating democratic principles of good citizenship to students. And students have a responsibility to apply what we are learning about good citizenship in our day-to-day interactions with others.

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In an email we received from professor Monti Datta in political science referring to the need to address microaggressions, wrote: 

“If we are to create a more just, civil society and a more welcoming and inclusive community at the University of Richmond, then it’s important to lean into the difficult conversations about race, class, gender, and equity, and to do that more often in a public setting, one in which students, faculty, staff, and administrators can come to the table in a spirit of seeing and uplifting our shared humanity. 

“This means listening to one another more deeply as well as critically interrogating why we might sometimes intentionally or unintentionally use hurtful language against one another. If we can explore this together at UR, then we can claim to be on the path toward a more thriving community.”

With this in mind, we have worked with Datta and Méndez to create a syllabus statement on microaggressions. Our hope is that faculty members will include this statement in their spring 2021 (and future) syllabi, and that students will read it carefully. 

In the statement, there is information regarding the impact of microaggressions on the mental health of students. At the end of the statement, students and faculty can pledge to address these

microaggressions as they arise. Through this syllabus statement, we hope to draw attention to

this common yet often ignored dynamic that allows microaggressions to occur in and outside of UR’s classrooms.

Through this statement, we are actively acknowledging the harm that microaggressions can cause and encouraging students and professors to be more vigilant and self-aware of this dynamic. We hope the statement will allow those who are impacted by bias and microaggressions to more comfortably express their alienation and hurt. The statement also promotes an upcoming workshop called “Not So Slight: Combating mAcroaggressions.”

This workshop series, inspired by the students who participated in the Equity Summit, will teach community members how to create meaningful conversations without the use of microaggressions and provide a space to reflect on experiences that have involved microaggressions. You may notice that the workshop is titled “mAcroaggressions'' in order to recognize that even though the impact of microaggressions may seem small in scale, their impact is not. Later this spring, there will be a workshop aimed at different microaggressions that marginalized students face. 

The workshop will occur on March 30th and April 1st, tackling microaggressions related to ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, disabilities, and mental health We hope that all students will attend the workshop, as doing so will provide our campus with opportunities to learn how to have meaningful conversations without microaggressions and acknowledge those microaggressions when they do happen on our campus. This is a chance for our campus community to be reformed, especially after the incidents at UR motivated by racist and xenophobic rhetoric in January 2020.

We would also like to thank Méndez and Datta for their guidance. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this piece, please feel free to reach out to us, Penny Hu (penny.hu@richmond.edu) and Arju Patel (arju.patel@richmond.edu).

Contact contributors Penny Hu at penny.hu@richmond.edu and Arju Patel at arju.patel@richmond.edu.

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