Microaggressions: A Million Tiny Paper Cuts

April 4, 2021
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Competencies
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Access and Equity
  • Diversity
small cartoon female cries as a giant hand points at her

AACRAO 2021 Session: A Million Tiny Paper Cuts - Understanding and Responding to Microaggressions

Microaggressions have been described as “a million tiny paper cuts” and our students, staff, and faculty often have to navigate this experience.

In this session AACRAO Caucus members discussed how you can be an advocate for equity and become a part of creating a more inclusive environment for people of all identities and backgrounds.

What are Microaggressions?

In beginning the session the definition of microaggressions was presented as: “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group, behavior or speech that is characterized by such comments or actions”.

Some of the microaggressions shared in the session by presenters included surprise that they had achieved advanced degrees or positions, comments about their language, race, or appearance. 

One of the running themes of the session was the constant fatigue caused by daily microaggressions and how this stress and fatigue can have an adverse effect on health and success.

Some of the other negative outcomes included:

  • Hostile and invalidating societal climate in employment, education, and healthcare
  • Loss of institutional respect and workplace cohesion
  • Psychological distress, anxiety, trauma, depression
  • Workplace productivity
  • Negative effects on institutional reputation

In addition to the above there were other types of microaggressions discussed including:

  • Microassaults -  A person intentionally behaving in a discriminatory manner while not intending to be offensive
  • Microinsults -  A comment or action that is unintentionally discriminatory
  • Microinvalidations -  A comment that invalidates or undermines the experiences of a certain group of people

What to do?

Approaches to confronting microaggressions start with not ignoring the behavior. Instead, assess the situation, determine if everyone is physically safe, learn whether the microassault is a direct threat, and finally elevate to the proper authorities, or leaders, in real-time.

Intervention techniques presented during the session included:

  • Make the invisible - visible
  • Make explicit the meta-communication.  Make sure to directly challenge the behavior or stereotype.
  • Disarm the microaggression.  Express disagreement, describe what is happening, interrupt & redirect.
  • Seek external intervention
  • Educate the offender

Want to get involved? Join an AACRAO Caucus and become a part of the discussion. Stay up-to-date on future AACRAO Annual Meetings, Join the list.


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