The term “microaggression” was coined in 1970 to name relatively slight, subtle, and often unintentional offenses that cause harm (Pierce, 1970). Since then, a substantial body of research on microaggressions has demonstrated their prevalence and harmful effects (Boysen, 2012; Solorzan, et. al., 2010; Suárez-Orozco, et. al., 2015; Sue, 2010).
Whether an observer, the target, or the unintentional perpetrator of microaggressions, faculty often don’t know how to respond to them in the moment. We may feel frozen (if the observer) or defensive (if the target or perpetrator). How we respond can shift the communication climate from supportive to defensive, which can have an adverse effect on student learning and comfort (Dallimore, et al, 2005; Souza, et al, 2010).
Despite the feelings of paralysis or reactivity that tend to emerge in response to microaggressions in the classroom, certain practices can be implemented to increase the likelihood of maintaining a supportive climate. The following communication framework is offered as one of many possible response strategies to help faculty feel better equipped to effectively respond when a microaggression occurs.
I developed this framework (first introduced in Chueng, Ganote, & Souza, 2016) as an interactive response one could take to a microaggression by a student in the classroom. The acronym and steps below provide a guide on how to take ACTION rather than feeling frozen when faced with a microaggression.
Ask clarifying questions to assist with understanding intentions.
“I want to make sure that I understand what you were saying. Were you saying that…?”
Come from curiosity not judgment.
- Listen actively and openly to their response.
- If they disagree with your paraphrase and clarify a different meaning, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment to encourage learning.
“I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”
- If they agree with your paraphrase, explore their intent behind making the comment.
“Can you tell me what you were you hoping to communicate with that comment?”
“Can you please help me understand what you meant by that?”
Tell what you observed as problematic in a factual manner.
“I noticed that . . .”
Impact exploration: ask for, and/or state, the potential impact of such a statement or action on others.
“What do you think people think when they hear that type of comment?”
“As you know, everything speaks. What message do you think such a comment sends?”
“What impact do you think that comment could have on …”
Own your own thoughts and feelings around the impact.
“When I hear your comment I think/feel…”
“Many people might take that comment to mean…”
“In my experience, that comment can perpetuate negative stereotypes and assumptions about… I would like to think that is not your intent.”
Next steps: Request appropriate action be taken.
“Our class is a learning community, and such comments make it difficult for us to focus on learning because people feel offended. So I am going to ask you to refrain from stating your thoughts in that manner in the future. Can you do that please?”
“I encourage you to revisit your view on X as we discuss these issues more in class.”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d consider using a different term because it is inconsistent with our course agreement regarding X…”
When practiced, the ACTION framework can be a tool that is quickly retrieved out of your mental toolbox to organize your thoughts and unpack the microaggression in a way that addresses the situation and cools down tension.
When students make comments that are microaggressive in the classroom, doing nothing is a damaging option (Souza, Vizenor, Sherlip, & Raser, 2016). Instead, we can engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a positive climate that is conducive to learning and models the skills needed in responding to microaggressions in any context (Souza, 2016).
“Neurobiology of Escalated Aggression and Violence”. Journal of Neuroscience. 27 (44): 11803–11806. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3500-07.2007. ISSN 0270-6474. PMC 2667097. PMID 17978016.Buss, A. H. (1961). The psychology of aggression. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.Wahl, Klaus (2020).
The Radical Right. Biopsychosocial Roots and International Variations. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 47. ISBN 978-3-030-25130-7. OCLC 1126278982.Wahl, Klaus (2013).
Aggression und Gewalt. Ein biologischer, psychologischer und sozialwissenschaftlicher Überblick. Heidelberg: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag. p. 2. ISBN 978-3-8274-3120-2. OCLC 471933605.
Aggression: Its causes, consequences, and control. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.McEllistrem, Joseph E. (2004). “Affective and predatory violence: A bimodal classification system of human aggression and violence”. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 10 (1): 1–30. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2003.06.002.
Relational Aggression Among Students Principal Leadership, October, copyright the National Association of Secondary School Principals
“International Court May Define Aggression as Crime”. The New York Times.Nathaniel Snow
Violence and Aggression in Sports: An In-Depth Look (Part One) (Part 2Part 3) Bleacher Report, 23 March 2010
Online Etymology Dictionary: Aggression Retrieved 10 January 2012Stearns, D. C. (2003).
Anger and aggression. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society. Paula S. Fass (Ed.). Macmillan Reference Books
Developmental Origins of Aggression, 2005, The Guilford Press.
“Numerical assessment affects aggression and competitive ability: A team-fighting strategy for the ant Formica xerophila”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 273 (1602): 2737–42. doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.3626. JSTOR 25223670. PMC 1635503. PMID 17015327.
Lethal intergroup aggression leads to territorial expansion in wild chimpanzees”. Current Biology. 20 (12): R507–8. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.04.021. PMID 20620900. S2CID 6493161.Issa, F. A.; Adamson, D. J.; Edwards, D. H. (1999). “
Dominance hierarchy formation in juvenile crayfish procambarus clarkii”. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 202 (24): 3497–506. doi:10.1242/jeb.202.24.3497. PMID 10574728.
“Individual Variation in Social Aggression and the Probability of Inheritance: Theory and a Field Test” (PDF). The American Naturalist. 167 (6): 837–52. doi:10.1086/503445. hdl:10871/26263. PMID 16615035. S2CID 12094679.
Evolution and the psychology of intergroup conflict: The male warrior hypothesis”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 367 (1589): 670–9. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0301. JSTOR 41433544. PMC 3260849. PMID 22271783.uss, D.M. (2005).
The murderer next door: Why the mind Is designed to kill. New York: Penguin Press.
“The evolution of aggression”. In Schaller, M.; Simpson, J. A.; Kenrick, D. T. (eds.). Evolution and Social Psychology. New York: Psychology Press. pp. 263–86.Briffa, Mark (2010).
Does sexual selection explain human sex differences in aggression?” (PDF). Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 32 (3–4): 249–66, discussion 266–311. doi:10.1017/S0140525X09990951. PMID 19691899.
Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn about Sex from Animals.” University of California Press, 2002[page needed]
Marketing Programs You May Like: