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Microaggressions in the Workplace: A training with Teresa Maria Linda Scholz, PhD

Microaggressions are small comments or actions which may be indirect, unintentional or subtle, but reflect prejudice against members of a marginalized group. Conversations about microaggressions with relatives, friends and coworkers can be very difficult and uncomfortable to have, but they are important to understanding and refuting discrimination against marginalized groups (Limborg, Scholz, 2023).


Photograph is of Teresa Maria Linda Scholz, Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at New Mexico State University.
Teresa Maria Linda Scholz (Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder) is the Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at New Mexico State University.

To help our department learn more, Dr Teresa Maria Linda Scholz, Vice President of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at NMSU, has offered two different sessions on how to recognize and prevent microaggressions in our workplace, and avoid them in the development of our educational media products.


Because microaggressions are often considered as unintended by the aggressor, it can be difficult for individuals to change their behavior. The two sessions prompted discussions among our team about conversations and situations where we may have been the recipient of the microaggression, or where we may have offered the microaggression. It prompted us to ask, “what can we do better, or how have I been complicit in allowing these to occur?


Microaggressions often originate from biases. There are implicit and explicit biases, that is, one might act in a conscious manner or an unconscious manner towards another person or group in an oppressive or discriminatory way. Biases include attitudes, stereotypes and beliefs towards race, ability, gender, culture or language.


Kinds of microaggressions include:

  • Microassaults: Intentionally and explicitly derogatory verbal or nonverbal attacks. Occur anonymously or in more private settings.

  • Microinsults: Rude and insensitive subtle put downs of someone’s racial/ethnic heritage [or gender, class, sexuality] identities.

  • Microinvalidations: Remarks that diminish, dismiss, or negate the realities, histories or feelings/thoughts of people of color [and other marginalized groups]. (Scholz, 2023 p.47)

As part of our training, we reflected on how this understanding of microaggressions pertains to our development work. We want to make certain that we don’t perpetuate or introduce any transgressions towards team members or other collaborators. We also want to make sure that microaggressions don’t make their way into our products via discussions, scripting or art work. For example, in showing some characters consistently in roles which are secondary to a main character, we could unintentionally reinforce a microaggression regarding the leadership ability of people of that ethnicity. Using a character's hairstyle for comedic relief could be the equivalent of making subtle comments about the “wild hair” of a specific hair type.


Through Dr. Scholz, we learned ways to address people and situations where a microaggression is occurring or may have occurred and to be able to deal with it with sensitivity but also directness when needed. She suggested using mindful inquiry prompts and questions such as those offered in Lee Mun Wuh’s The Art of Mindful Facilitation:

  • Reflect back (for understanding) – “What I heard you say was…”

  • Reflect back (to validate) – “What angered you about what happened”

  • Affirm (to make space for inclusion) – “How is this familiar?”

  • Respond (if feeling hurt or offended) – I am having a response to what you said. Would you like to know what that response is?”

  • Connect (feasible solutions for future interactions) – “What do you need/want?”

Dr. Scholz provided scenarios for us to work through, and we engaged in discussions about oppression, discrimination and how these affect marginalized groups. We were also able to discuss situations where as individuals we might have had to navigate our own personal microaggression occurrences.


While addressing microaggression isn’t easy, it should be done, as it seems to happen in all aspects of society, whether systemic or socially. We appreciate this journey of reflection and learning.



References

Limborg, A, 2020. Microaggressions are a big deal: How to talk them out and when to walk away.

Scholz, T.M.L, 2023. Implicit Biases and Microaggressions, New Mexico State University.


Wah, Lee Mun. 2011. The Art of Mindful Facilitation. Stirfryseminars.com





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