Picture the scenario
A college’s multicultural students association calls a meeting. It’s about classroom climate. The conveners announce that there will be no names or identifying labels. The meeting is packed with students and faculty members. Students describe professors’ microaggressions: instances where they said or did things that made students feel denigrated, excluded, and negatively stereotyped.
Overwhelmed and out of strategies
Later, several faculty members talk about how shocked and discouraged they had been to recognize descriptions of themselves and their classrooms. One says the students were making mountains out of mole hills. Another disagrees, saying that it’s very important to focus on the negative effects microaggressions on students. A third faculty relates how the meeting left him overwhelmed by the complexity of responding to microaggressions. He adds, “I have zero strategies; can’t somebody give us a list of Do’s and Dont’s.”
It’s strategy time
In a thought-provoking 2014 article, Judson Laughter points out that researchers and educators have focused almost entirely on the recipient’s experiences of micro-aggression and hardly at all on the sender’s options for action. It’s time”, he argues, to “develop a proactive solution to the problem.” And a checklist won’t help until you’ve got an overarching strategy.
Judson Laughter proposes a strategy of “micro-kindness”: reducing microaggressive interactions and their effects with “brief verbal, behavioral, or environmental acts of respect.” Unlike unintentional microaggressions, micro-kindnesses are deliberate. Like small acts of love, they’re “consciously intended to provide a potential space for positive and humanizing interaction.”
Why your checklist will always be too short
A list of Do’s and Dont’s can’t predict every microaggression one may send or every effective response a person will need any more than it can tell a potential recipient exactly what microaggression will come their way and how they should respond. However, a list can be beneficial if it helps you focus on your participation in a microaggressive exchange.
Yes, it’s there. Laughter provides a list of micro-kindnesses for the classroom. It’s there to jump-start your strategy. Use it to grow your awareness, shift your focus, and help you adopt a new, positive, and promising practice.