Position Statement on Microaggressions in Education
Conversation is picking up around the fight against microaggressions across various spheres, including within education. As many counselors work with youth, in schools, and within the context of higher education, we may witness or unknowingly actively engage in microaggressions. Microaggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional 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). These offenses are often subtle, not overt or consciously made, and can be incredibly pervasive toward marginalized groups and individuals.
On campuses, these microaggressions may come from peers or educators, and can be made in a variety of ways. For example, failing to learn to pronounce a person’s name correctly, making assumptions about a person based on their race or gender, or continuing to use incorrect pronouns for a student after they have expressed their preference are all possible microaggressions that can occur. Simba Runyowa, a student at Ohio’s own Oberlin College, wrote about microaggressions and their impact on students, citing the specific example of using the correct pronouns for individuals:
“Take for instance, the prevalent use of non-traditional gender pronouns at Oberlin College, a practice becoming increasingly common elsewhere, as well. They acknowledge that people can identify with many genders, not just along the binary of male and female. Using a person’s preferred or desired gender pronouns (such as the gender neutral “they” instead of she or he) is not a meaningless exercise in identity politics—it is an acknowledgement of a person’s innermost identity, conferring both respect and dignity” (Runyowa, 2015).
That “conferring of both respect and dignity” that Runyowa refers to (2015) is at the core of our work, especially as we work to make the world a more socially just place. This should start with our workplace. We, as counselors, have the potential to make a positive impact with our clients and students by actively avoiding and calling out microaggressions, and by educating others around us. Research shows that delivering, participating in, or not having active dialogue when we witness microaggressions can seriously negatively affect our students and clients. In calling out microaggressions when they occur, and creating dialogue where appropriate, we are helping to serve as a deterrent for this behavior. Additionally, we can help to create safer spaces – offices and classrooms alike – for our students and clients. As we put this into practice by actively avoiding the participation in microaggressions, we are applying empathy in its purest form – and that is something worth fighting for.
- Runyowa, Simba (2015). Microaggressions Matter: They may not always be ill-intentioned, but the slights illuminate deeper problems in America. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/microaggressions-matter/406090/
- 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, pp 60‐73.
- The Impact of Racial Microaggressions on Mental Health: Counseling Implications for Clients of Color http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00130.x/abstrac
- Microaggressions in the Classroom https://www.messiah.edu/download/downloads/id/921/Microaggressions_in_the_Classroom.pdf