Shutting Down Microaggressions in the Classroom

College instructors are duty bound to create classrooms in which all students feel they belong and are respected. But sometimes inadvertent mistakes in the form of microaggressionsmay be doing just the opposite.

Microaggressions are “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Instructors may be guilty of inadvertent microaggressive behaviors such as:

Mispronouncing students’ names. If a student has corrected an instructor’s mispronunciation of his/her name repeatedly and the instructor has made no effort to learn it, the student may feel slighted.

Ignoring female students. Research shows male students are called on more often than female students. Doing so causes female students to feel snubbed.

Singling out students as representatives of their backgrounds. Just as no one professor is a representative of the entire professoriate, neither is one student a representative of his or her entire ethnicity or background. No individual can speak for an entire group.

Making assumptions about students’ backgrounds. Cultural and social identities may not be visible, so making statements about a particular group could end up offending someone from that very group. 

Expressing racially or politically charged political opinions. When instructors voice their opinions, they run the risk of marginalizing students who disagree and will feel silenced.

Allowing student-to-student microaggressions. Instructors must acknowledge and address microaggressions one students makes toward another.

Actions to Prevent Microaggressions

Instructors inherently are in a position of power and as such can lay the groundwork for creating a microaggression-free classroom. A few tips include the following:

  • Establish ground rules and expectations for classroom behavior with discussions early in the semester. Address these rules and expectations in your syllabus.
  • Avoid looking directly at a student who is a member of a group being talked about (LBGTQ, international students, students of color, and the like.)
  • Set high expectations for all students.
  • Use humor without degrading or targeting any group or specific student.
  • Accept criticism from students who have the courage to notify their instructor about their feelings.

Below are some links for more information about how to create a more inclusive classroom that is microaggression free.

Microaggressions: More than Just Race

Microaggressions in the Classroom

Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Taking ACTION

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