HOST INTRO: Microagressions are the covert forms of discrimination that people deal with regularly. As student protests continue around the country, universities have to establish ways to deal with them. Shandukani Mulaudzi reports.
Harvard Professor Chester M. Pierce coined the term Microagressions in the 1970s. He used the term to refer to the subtle discriminatory things white people would say to black people at the time. Other scholars have developed the idea of to include people discrimination because of race, gender and sexual orientation.
Shane Henise is a student at teachers college, Columbia University. Last month, he ran a photo campaign to raise awareness about microagressions directed at transgender people.
HENISE 1: The one that I get most frequently is: “Oh my goodness I would have never known that you were transgender. (0.09)
Henise says people think that’s a compliment but it’s not. They also say other things that really hurt.
HENISE 2: you will never be a real man. That one hits me particularly hard because I hear it time and time again. (0.07)
Sangeeta Yadav is a social work student. The questions she hears time and time again come after she tells people she’s from New Jersey.
YADAV 1: But where are you originally from and then I’m like “oh my nationality? I’m Nepalese. (0.08)
And then that’s often followed by “well… you weren’t born in the US, how come you don’t have an accent?”
Yadav says these questions make her feel like she’s “different”, like she doesn’t belong. This is why she thinks people should be taught more about microagressions.
YADAV 2: I think that microagressions get ignored but those are the things that become internalised and over time those are the things that really affect people (0.08)
The University of Oregon, the University of Kansas and other institutions have been introducing compulsory diversity training programs – in part to deal with microagressions.
At Columbia a task force made up of students, faculty, staff and administrators will work together to draft a plan to tackle diversity on campus.
Isabel Geathers is the dean of academic diversity at the graduate school of arts and science. She is a member of the taskforce and says dealing with diversity is tough.
GEATHERS 3: Students are coming in with very different levels of background and education. (0.05)
Geathers says for this reason, diversity training cannot be one-size-fits-all. For example LGBT students would need racial diversity training but maybe not as much LGBT training.
She believes training should be mandatory but some choice needs to be left up to faculty and students.
GEATHERS 5: “Let them do some kind of survey that says: “I know this kind of vocabulary, this is the kind of training I’ve had but also letting them choose their own learning goals.” (0.13)
Some critics say universities have gone too far with their policing of speech. The University of California system, put up a list of microgressions on its website. Ari Cohn (Cone) is an attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He is concerned that lists like that limit free speech.
COHN 1: When you have these small fleeting moments that are judged to be microagressions regardless of the intent of the speaker and when you start enforcing a campus culture around that it makes people feel kind of trapped (0.17)
Cohn also says people should not be punished for having different perspectives. Yadav agrees.
YADAV 3: Subtle things I don’t think that you can punish someone I think the best way is to prevent it by education. (0.18)
The Columbia Task force will meet on a monthly basis next year with the first major meeting planned for Spring. Right now, there is no clear indication of when a diversity plan will be finalized.
Shandukani Mulaudzi, Columbia Radio News.