“Good afternoon, guys,” “I don’t see color — just people,” “What’s your major? I bet it’s computer science,” ‘’Where are you from? … OK, but where are you really from?”
These subtleties, despite being such commonly used phrases among students and professors alike, can manifest as snide remarks and unintentional insults toward subordinate groups.
They are called microaggressions — everyday verbal or nonverbal insults that communicate negative messages or hostility to marginalized groups. Microaggressions can be based on race, sex, gender identity, socioeconomic status and other factors. On college campuses specifically, they can occur among students, faculty and staff — or between students and professors. They can include a professor refusing to use a student’s preferred gender pronouns or mispronouncing a student’s name after being repeatedly corrected.
Although they seem trivial, microaggressions are so prevalent on college campuses that people can undermine their racist, sexist and heteronormative undertones that alienate marginalized groups. To help combat this issue, the University must spread awareness to the entire student population, but that starts with professors who also exhibit these behaviors. To cultivate a more inclusive learning culture, USC professors should be mandated to undergo inclusion and microaggression training with the ultimate goal of educating students and creating environments more conducive to learning.
Professors teach on this campus to communicate their fields of expertise to a diverse student body from varying cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, the use of microaggressions turns the classroom into a noninclusive environment and insecure learning space. Because this reflects poorly for both the professor and the University, USC must take the initiative to ensure its faculty is not discriminatory.
After all, by attending a University that prides itself on its diverse student population, students should feel comfortable learning in a setting where their identities are not devalued by educators through microaggressions. Implementing a program — whether it be an online program akin to AlcoholEdu or a training seminar led by a sociologist — would shed light on the subliminal meanings of such metamessages.
For instance, although using “guys” to refer to a class of individuals on different parts of the gender spectrum appears harmless, it could insinuate male-identifying individuals as dominant and all others as less significant. Assuming a student’s major based solely on their race could stereotype the entire group to one skill. Exclusively using heteronormative examples could disregard the other portion of the sex spectrum apart from heterosexuality. While ostensibly menial, backhanded actions like these isolate marginalized groups as abnormal and as if they do not belong, which could make a learning environment feel less open to everybody.
While interacting with professors outside of lecture can be beneficial to students’ success, students may not feel comfortable talking to a professor outside of class because of comments that inadvertently discriminate against them and demoralize them. This would put underrepresented groups at even more of a disadvantage compared to the majority.
Instilling a mandatory training for professors would be one step closer to providing all students with equal opportunities to succeed, at least in the classroom. Plus, this sort of program would not be new to campus — certain students actually do have to go through microaggression training. Resident assistants, for example, undergo a two-day training on equity and inclusion to learn about racial inequalities, historical trends of discrimination and microaggressions.
This allows RAs to be better equipped to foster living atmospheres that are inclusive to all identities and backgrounds. While this training is especially pertinent in the residential housing branch, the University should translate its efficacy to the classroom where prejudiced remarks of different magnitudes are still prevalent.
Ideally, this training would not only improve the way professors conduct their class but also the way students conduct themselves out of class. Whether participating in a class discussion or listening to a professor’s lecture style, students can also understand the implications behind microaggressions and the reasons for avoiding them. Students could then contextualize this knowledge by interacting with peers and strangers, which would directly reflect a university that produces conscientious individuals who are also capable of promoting safer workspaces and atmospheres.
By educating professors about these insinuations, USC could make great strides in acknowledging microaggressions as a macroscopic problem. And it all starts with a shift in vocabulary and mindset — for what seems like a microscopic adjustment today could cause drastic change tomorrow.