• Microaggression

    “You’re so smart for a Black girl.”

    “Why is he so fat?”

    “All-gender bathrooms are so stupid.”

    Even experiences that are not intentionally hostile or physically threatening can be harmful. It is critical for us as a university community that we acknowledge and work to decrease these kinds of hurtful experiences. Many times, they are experienced as microaggression, which occurs in the context of the larger culture of oppression regarding race, gender, ability, immigration status, size, sexual orientation, and other identities, and is a result of power and privilege of a dominant group over a subordinated group. Symptoms of larger societal issues like prejudice and bigotry are not always overt or intentional. Microaggression is powerful and insidious and can be as damaging as “explicit” aggression.

    What Is Microaggression?

    Microaggression shows up as brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or not, that communicate a hostile, derogatory, or negative slight or insult toward a targeted group.

  • Microaggression may involve any of the following

    • Treatment as a second class citizen
    • Assumption of inferiority
    • Stereotyping
    • Invisibility
    • Cultural insensitivity
    • Objectification
    • Denial of the reality of another's experience
    • Target of jokes
    • Profiling
    • Object of derogatory language
    • Denial of bias

    Microaggression is

    • Verbal
      • Spoken statements, questions, etc.
    • Nonverbal A gestural or any sort of body language that asserts that the addressee of the microaggression is not a person of worth
      • Examples
        • A look of amazement or disgust at a gender-non-conforming couple in public.
        • Questioning looks or stares at a biracial person, interpreted as trying to “categorize/decipher” them.
    • Environmental
      • Microaggression which is systemic, institutionalized, and/or experienced through the physical environmental
        • Examples
        • Being forced to use the complicated industrial elevator and take an extra ten minutes to arrive in class, because you are disabled and use a motorized wheelchair.
        • The majority of readings on all your class syllabi feature only readings from white cisgender men. Professors who try to bring in more variation are criticized by their department chairs.
        • Monuments, artwork, or portraiture in public spaces that are predominantly (often exclusively) white cisgender men and women.

    Types of Microaggression

    • Microinsult
      • Often unconscious
      • Behavioral/verbal remarks or comments that convey rudeness, insensitivity, and demean a person's heritage, identity, or self in any way
        • Saying, “so like, how do you even have sex anyway?” to a lesbian couple.
        • “You're pretty cute, for a Mexican.”
        • “You throw well for a girl.”
    • Microassault
      • Often conscious
      • Explicit degradation characterized primarily by a violent verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions.
      • Cat Calling a woman, being ignored, and then saying that she's so ugly that no one would want her anyway.
      • Getting onto a subway car and sitting as far as possible from a black man, a homeless person, etc.
    • Microinvalidation
      • Often unconscious
      • Verbal comments or behaviors that exclude, negate, or nullify the thoughts, feelings, or experiential realities of the victim.
        • Saying “you shouldn't be annoyed. I meant that you must be smart because you're Asian.”
        • To a person of color, “You act/speak/write so white.”
        • Holding a Social Justice Committee meeting in a space that is not accessible for wheelchairs.

    Common Examples of Microaggression in an Academic Setting

    • Courses and curricula that only offer dominant group perspectives, such as western or European artists or others who are primarily Caucasian as the basis for introductory art classes; lack of gender studies and/or ethnic studies as majors; limited course offerings of social justice related topics
    • Faculty and classmates do not ask for gender pronouns, and mis-identify people
    • Feeling tokenized in classrooms when specific subject matters are raised (i.e. the one Black student is expected to speak for all Black people)
    • Professors choose very expensive books and materials for classes and may not consider the limitations of lower income students by making copies available in the library, etc.
    • Being called “overly sensitive” when addressing a microaggression
    • Bathrooms and locker rooms are labelled Male or Female, and Trans* and/or gender nonconforming folks don't feel safe or comfortable in either
    • Seats in the classroom / auditorium / office are too small for many people
    • Dress forms in your fashion program are only a size 6 or smaller. Professors are dismissive of a student's interest in designing clothes for people of more diverse body types.  
    • Students cast as the lead in school plays or dance shows, and models chosen for school fashion shows are all conventionally thin and conventionally beautiful.
    • Bodies with different abilities are not considered in class topics or 
    • Food sold in the cafeteria does not include options for those with limited food budgets. 
    • A roommate does not give permission for a same sex partner to sleep over in a shared dorm but has their opposite sex partner sleep over.
    • Professors and university staff, especially those in positions of power, are not representative of a diverse range of identities (i.e. they are mostly white, male, straight, cisgender, etc.). 

     

    Microaggression Can Take Time to Register

    One of the most insidious features of microaggression is that sometimes it is hard to confront because it can be so subtle or happen so commonly without being addressed.  It may leave you with an unpleasant feeling like, “Yuck, something doesn't feel right.” But often times, it's hard to call out or name because the “yuck” factors may have to do with tone, context, and implication.  Some involve small incidents or indirect insults.  This makes it easy for the aggressor to dismiss or negate your perception that the behavior or comment was discriminatory.

    Examples

    1. A statement from your white roommate such as, “wow, you are incredibly intelligent and articulate!” can be received as an awesome compliment, or, as a person of color, it may feel like your roommate may be coming from a place of white privilege, assuming that you, as a person of color, would be intellectually inferior in some way, and is surprised that you are not. 
    2. You are involved in a discussion around fashion model sizes in your Design Management course, assumptions are made about people who are thin, smooth skinned, and conventionally beautiful - that they are good role models because they are fit and healthy. The fat students in the class begin to feel stigmatized and body shamed, as assumptions are made that people who are fat are unhealthy and unfit.

  • Impacts of Microaggression

    Microaggression causes real and serious harm, physically, emotionally, and mentally. These impacts are felt at the individual, institutional, structural and societal level. 

  • Microaggression is not “Micro” in Impact

    The “micro” in microaggression refers to the brevity and (to some) subtlety of the offense, and does not imply that these experiences are small in their harmful impact. Some people who are not in marginalized groups may think these experiences are “no big deal,” but the fact that they are commonplace and experienced on a regular basis throughout a person's life lead them to be “quite a big deal.” In this vein, it is important to note that the “micro” in microaggression denotes a position of power/privilege. If it impacts someone, and it's a big deal to them, it's not micro. We use the nomenclature because it is the definition used in academic literature, but we can also be critical of this term.

    Microaggression Can Be Directly Assaultive

    Some microaggression is overt, and immediately experienced as threatening and hurtful 

    • A trans student walks into a bathroom labelled “Women” and is yelled at to use the “right” bathroom and may even be physically pushed.
    • A group of students is sitting on a stoop near school when a person walks by wearing a sheer mini dress with stiletto heels. One students says out loud, “you know what they're asking for!” Another says, “slut!”

    4 Impacts

    1. Within the university context, it can create a hostile or invalidating campus climate
      Academic performance, social engagement, retention, drive and motivation, overall success. 
      • Microaggression is one of the most frequent manifestations of bias on college campuses, and a primary source of negative perceptions of campus climate and culture. For students of color on campus, microaggression can cause “racial battle fatigue,” amplifying the aforementioned impacts.
    2. At the individual level, microaggression perpetuates stereotype threat, lowers work productivity and problem solving abilities, and assails the mental and physical health of the targets.

      Stress, anxiety, harmful coping mechanisms, (sustained) cortisol, susceptibility to disease, possible alteration of genes (can be passed on through childbirth), disengagement with social structures, isolation, mental health, physical health

      • Even experiencing a single incident of dismissive or demeaning behavior can lead to chronic self questioning, lowered self-confidence, and fear of doing anything to precipitate a second such incident. When the target for any reason finds it difficult to confront or challenge the person committing microaggression or perpetuating stereotype threat, the dangers of self-blame and shame are increased. For example, hearing your boss make a homophobic comment can lead to your not being open about your sexual orientation at work and beyond, leading to feeling more isolated and ashamed. 
      • Oppression-related stress increases what is known as “allostatic load,” keeping the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) engaged. Over time this produces “wear and tear” on the body, and is linked to increased susceptibility to certain diseases. Even merely anticipating discrimination and microaggression increases cortisol and stress responses. 
    3. Contributes to a hostile society
      • Saturates broader society with cues that signal the devaluation of minorities- cues such as low minority representation and few individuals from underrepresented groups in positions of power, lack of media inclusivity, and curricula and practices that directly inadvertently marginalize targeted group identities.
    4. Perpetuates inequities in education, employment, and health care
      • Historic and ongoing oppression is a serious public health issue. The aforementioned negative impacts contribute to disparities within social systems by perpetuating the systemic harms and implications of oppression. For example, employers often express bias by choosing to respond to applicants with euro-centric names, blocking employment opportunity for other candidates. Others note job applicants who are the right “fit” for an organization, which often means have the most in common with the people with the decision making power.

  • Recognize and Respond

    The New School Student Health Services seeks to encourage all members of our campus community to cultivate an inclusive, participatory, equitable, and affirming climate for all of us by treating microaggression as serious and unacceptable. We aim not to mandate “political correctness,” but to shine a light on interactions, practices, and institutional structures that perpetuate injustice in our community.  We aim to reduce the incidence of microaggression and increase respectful dialogue and action.  Here’s how we can do that:

  • Recognize Microaggression

    Whether a microaggression is intentional or not, it is experienced as a put down and a belittling experience that marginalizes and undermines. Even though it can be difficult to pinpoint microaggression, the first step in responding is noticing that something has happened, then recognizing that it is unacceptable. Microaggression is powerful and insidious, and can be as harmful as overt aggression.

    The things we hear or see around us (including visual materials such as flyers, monuments, slogans, etc., and social practices), or see done to others or to ourselves, that generally make us uncomfortable or seem offensive but are hard to explain or argue are common manifestations of microaggression verbally, nonverbally, and environmentally/institutionally.

    Respond to Microaggression

    It's best to find your own words and speak in your own voice. Being comfortable intervening takes practice and you'll want to develop different strategies for different scenarios. People who witness verbally or physically coercive or violent situations sometimes decide not to act in response to it. This happens for many reasons: We may think that it isn't our responsibility or our business, that someone else who “knows what to do” will step in, that the aggression will subside without our intervention, we may not know what to say or do or we may not feel safe to do something. It is important not to judge the reasons why individuals do not intervene, and instead prepare in advance how to respond if faced with such a situation.

    Fact: We are more likely to step up and be an empowered bystander if we strategize and practice ahead of time what we might say or do in certain situations. Take some time to role play it in your mind, or with friend, and if a troublesome situation arises, you will feel more prepared to respond.

    When you are the target

    It is important to acknowledge any feelings you may experience as a result of a microaggression. Acknowledgement may be to yourself, to a friend, or may involve a direct confrontation with the aggressor.

    Sometimes it may be important just to let the person know that you are offended by their behavior and that the behaviors/statements are unacceptable. At other times, the incident can be the catalyst for some important ongoing discussions about -isms - which are forms of oppression such as racism and classism - and discrimination. However you decide to respond, remember: microaggression is real, offensive and you are justified to address it. You can be empowered to respond to in ways that maximize your mental and physical well being.

    When you witness microaggression

    Microaggression happens everyday, and it's not common to name it, or even realize what's happening right when it occurs. We have to train ourselves to recognize and decipher these instances. People who witness a microaggression can be affected by it even when the supposed target isn't affected. Be gentle with yourself and others. This is a process, and the more you are aware of and practice ways to respond (be it through confrontation, self-care, supporting of the target, talking with friends, involvement in social action, etc.) the easier it will become to be intentional and use these skills over time. Speak Up if you notice someone doing any of the following:

    • Perpetuate stereotypes and/or myths about identity groups
    • Use objectifying or degrading language
    • Blame the victim/target
    • Say someone is being too sensitive to the microaggression
    • Being called “overly sensitive” when addressing a microaggression
    • Objectify another's body
    • Glamorize violence and assault in any form, especially sexual violence, stalking, sexual assault, sexual harassment and street harassment
    • Tell biased jokes
    • Make derogatory comments about abilities, bodies, sexual orientation, documentation status, race, and/or gender identity
    • Refuse to take rape accusations seriously
    • Make racist, classist, sexist (and other) statements or questions

    Empowered Bystander/Upstander

    An Empowered Bystander or Upstander is someone who helps create a safer community by utilizing a wide range of behaviors, including standing up and speaking out, when they witness situations that could potentially threaten the health and safety of others.  

    Actions to be an Empowered Bystander/Upstander

    • Notice behavior or remarks that are oppressive; racist, sexist, ableist, fat phobic, homo- and transphobic, etc., remarks as well as verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual violence and abuse.
    • Check-in with the target/victim during and/or afterwards, and protect/shield them from the abuse if possible and safe. Offer support or just acknowledge what happened. Ask them what you can do for them.
    • If you are the target, seek out support yourself, including from others immediately around you, or later on with someone you trust.
    • If you feel comfortable and it's appropriate you can use these three steps in response:
      • Name the act. “You said _____”
      • State a principle. “That's not ok.”
      • Make a command.  “Don't say that again in my presence.”
    • Think critically about mainstream messages around race, class, bodies, sexuality, abilities, gender, sex, and violence, and challenge them.
    • Create a safer environment inclusive (when appropriate) of all gender identities, sexual orientations, body types, communities, etc. Also respect that sometimes target communities want and deserve their own space.
    • Respect people's physical space, even in casual situations.
    • Define your own identity, and do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
    • Hold perpetrators accountable for their harmful behavior rather than making the targets justify how and why the behavior was unwarranted and/or harmful.
    • Join a student or community group working for social justice and anti-oppression.

    More tips on responding

    • State the behavior you want to see (e.g. this is a place where people of all sexual orientations are welcome and not made fun of.).
    • Set limits and follow through with them (e.g. "Do not tell [rape, racist, sexual, -phobic, etc.] jokes in my presence anymore; if you do I will leave.")
    • Do not accept minimizing, deflection, blaming the target, or excuses. When this happens, call it out. 
    • If someone has just been assaulted help them get to a safe place and access care.
    • Report it: Sexual violence of any kind is a violation of The New School Sexual Assault Policy and is against New York State Law.  Acts of bias and discrimination are violations of the university Code of Conduct.  If you discover that a New School student feels they have been discriminated against for any reason, you should advise them of their right to report the incident to Student Rights and Responsibilities at 212.229.5349 x3653.
    • If you feel unsafe approaching those directly involved, don't. Pausing to assess your safety and the situation is often the best course of action.

  • What If I’m the Microaggressor

    Congratulations! You realized that you microaggressed. Although it’s still unacceptable, recognizing and admitting oppressive language, behavior, and thoughts is not the norm and is necessary to practice anti-oppression; it also feels good to admit our faults and seek to change them.

  • Apologize

    Adapted from theKeys to Constructing an Effective Apology”PsychologyToday article:

    (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201311/the-five-ingredients-effective-apology)

    Apologies are tools with which we acknowledge violations of social expectations or norms, take responsibility for the impact of our actions on others, ask their forgiveness, and by doing so, repair ruptures in our relationships, restore our social standing, and ease feelings of guilt.

    This formulation implies that for an apology to be effective it must have the following key ingredients

    1. A clear 'I'm sorry' statement.
    2. An expression of regret for what happened.
    3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
    4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of our actions on the other person.
    5. A request for forgiveness.
    6. An explanation of what you'll do to prevent it from happening again.

    Realize Your Privilege

    Microaggression is a good entry point for a conversation on power, privilege, and oppression. Entire libraries could be filled on this topic, but the offerings below are a useful beginning.

    Remember that Buzzfeed quiz that came out in 2014 that went viral, asking folks to “check(list)” your privilege? It asked you to mark yes or no to statements like “I have never been told I sound white” and “I can afford a therapist.” The quiz then made a simple tally of your “privilege score” which gave an idea of resources, opportunities, benefits, that are accessible to you, and challenges, barriers, or hardships that you may have not endured. 

    (Adapted and borrowed from everydayfeminism.org)

    Privilege 

    A set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.

    1. Privilege is the other side of oppression. Folks who do not fit into certain privileged categories (white, male, straight, Christian, and so on) face oppression because of their identities, due to all of the ways society disenfranchises those identities and lived experiences. For example: same-sex couples denied access to adopt children, or public spaces/resources that are not accessible for individuals as they should according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  They make daily life harder for oppressed individuals or deny them rights and opportunities afforded to others.
    2. Privilege must be understood in the context of power systems. Privileged people are more likely to be in positions of power - for example, they're more likely to dominate politics, be economically well-off, have influence over the media, and hold executive positions in companies.
    3. Privileges and oppressions affect each other, but they don't negate each other. Many individuals are both simultaneously privileged by an identity and oppressed via another, and both privilege and oppression are influenced by the intersections of ALL of our identities.
    4. Sometimes, privilege describes what everyone should experience. Not everyone (or anyone, for that matter) needs to or should be able to own their own mansion, but everyone should possess quality and affordable housing in safe and resource-rich communities.
    5. Privilege doesn't mean you didn't work hard. It means you had unearned benefits or opportunities that others didn't, because of the identities and circumstances you were born into or gained. 

  • Addressing Microaggression at The New School

    Document

    There is power in ending silence about microaggression on campus — by recording microaggression so that it cannot be swept under the rug and reminding people that it is not new and also not new to the attention of our administration. 

    In the absence of institutional mechanisms to address microaggression, a collaborative effort between Student Health Services and #IAMNS began in the spring of 2015 to provide students with a campaign to increase awareness of and document instances of microaggression on campus. Microaggression experiences were collected and posted around campus using a poster campaign. We are open to ideas for better ways to maintain and share this documentation.

    Educate and Advocate

    Get trained! The next microaggression workshop will take place November 11, 2016, 1:00-4:00 p.m. Topics will include what microaggressions are, responding (whether as witness, perpetrator, or target), and policies and resources at The New School. For more information and to RSVP, reach out to Wellness and Health Promotion at wellness@newschool.edu.

    Join and support efforts on campus to document, collect instances of, and raise awareness of microaggression. #IAMNS is one such effort. 

    The New School's Wellness and Health Promotion program, in conjunction with student leaders, has developed a microaggression workshop. We aim to offer the workshop once a semester. Contact wellness@newschool.edu for more information.  

    Educate yourself, share what you've learned with your peers, think about how you want to make our community a better place for everyone, and step up! We are looking for students, faculty, and staff to join us as co-presenters of the microaggression workshop.

    Micro-affirmation

    Micro-affirmation has been defined as “tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening. Micro-affirmations lie in the practice of generosity, in consistently giving credit to others-in providing comfort and support when others are in distress, when there has been a failure at the bench, or an idea that did not work out, or a public attack.” Read more here.

    Just as microaggression can permeate a campus climate and make it hostile, so can acts of goodness, genuine understanding, human connection, and solidarity improve the climate. That's what you're doing when you comfort the student who is teased for their size in a fashion design class (and hopefully try to stop it). It's what you do when you actually recognize the existence of a panhandler on the street, or speak to them kindly, instead of shooing them away or ignoring them. Solidarity is anti-oppressive, not charity.

    Report

    Acts of bias and discrimination are violations of the university Policy on Discrimination, and may also be a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, the Sexual Assault Policy and the Sexual Harassment Policy depending on the incident.  These may take the form of behaviors, verbal remarks, written messages, drawings or other kinds of images.

    All members of our community- students, staff, faculty, administrators and guests- can be the target or perpetrator of microaggression. Regardless of who is at fault, reporting is an option. 

    New School students who feel they have been discriminated against can contact Student Rights and Responsibilities at 212.229.5349 x3653 or srr@newschool.edu

    The university's policy on discrimination and related subjects can be found at www.newschool.edu/student-rights-and-responsibilities.

    New School staff and faculty who feel they have been discriminated against can contact Human Resources at 212.229.5671 or contact Carol Cantrell, Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Labor Relations, at cantrelc@newschool.edu. Union members can also discuss the issue with their union representatives. 

    The New School has selected EthicsPoint, Inc., to provide you with simple, risk-free ways to anonymously and confidentially report activities in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local laws as well as university policies and procedures as set forth in the University's Institutional Policies & Procedural Manual, Student Handbook and Full-Time Faculty Handbook. 

    The EthicsPoint reporting System is not a substitute for existing reporting channels, already established by The New School. The New School has elected to provide this service as an additional means of reporting, where maintaining the reporter's anonymity and confidentiality is important. The New School encourages reporters to first attempt to resolve problems or disputes through established communication channels whenever possible.

    You can file a report to The New School on the EthicsPoint website or by calling 877.307.1207 a dedicated phone number with EthicsPoint. 

    As of fall 2015, The New School has Staff and Student Ombuds Offices. The Ombuds Offices provide strictly confidential, impartial, and informal conflict resolution and problem-solving services for staff (all staff, non-senate academics, and faculty who perform management functions) and for all students. The Ombuds Office is a safe, neutral place to voice and clarify concerns, understand conflict situations, and find effective ways to respond.

    There are instances of microaggression that are not personal interactions. Microaggression may be experienced through curriculum, space design, absences of representation in multiple arenas, etc. At this time, the authors of this webpage are unaware of any one official way to address these issues at The New School. We suggest discussing with allies, contacting the Office for Social Justice Initiatives, and/or joining existing groups or starting groups to organize around these concerns. These suggestions are not exhaustive; we encourage you to use your creativity and passion to find ways to make the university more inclusive and equitable. We acknowledge that some may be quick, easy fixes, and others will not be.

  • Seeking Support and Coping with Microaggression

    There are many insidious, short-term, and long-term effects from microaggression. You don’t have to just be a victim, and you don’t have to feel powerless because of it. As a university, there are people, programs, and offices to support you. It is our goal that you find the support that you need. 

  • Self-care

    Little do we realize that experiencing oppression in this manner, even though seemingly small or “micro,” is frustrating, fatiguing, and takes a toll on our mental and physical selves. Just as it is important to respond to aggression after-the-fact, it is just as important that we take care of ourselves and others who are targeted. 

    In the same way we dedicate to setting aside time for our social lives, work, family, and other responsibilities, we need to dedicate time to love on ourselves and do what makes us feel happy, healthy, supported, and inspired. Beyond “doing what what we like to do,” it is helpful in coping with daily microaggression or bigger challenges to practice healing activities such as yoga, meditation, fitness, healthy eating, and more. Join a support group or other identity/affiliation/ group to connect with others who understand you better, and seek counseling and other mental health services when you feel overwhelmed.

    Visit Student Health Services Wellness and Health Promotion for more information on many of these self-care techniques that are available for free on campus. 

    Resilience/Resistance

    Taking microaggression and other oppression seriously, and advocating to make communities and society better, is one of the most empowering ways to resist and develop resilience. Devoting energy towards equity develops personal growth and ultimately improves the world in which we live. Join and support social justice groups on and off campus that work to make our community more equitable, inclusive, and affirming. See resources section for more information. 

    Receive training on microaggression and then conduct workshops for the broader campus community. Contact wellness@newschool.edu for more information.

    Resources

    In addition to the offices listed above where reporting should occur, several offices or initiatives deal directly with social justice and anti-oppression work. These are capacity-building entities so that programs, services, workshops, trainings and retreats are organized to build safer university systems, and prevent discrimination in the first place. They each possess different powers,  responsibilities, and capacities.

    Spend time in the Baldwin Rivera Boggs Social Justice Hub on the 5th floor of the University Center. 

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