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Avoiding and Dealing with Microaggressions


Last Reviewed:
February 9, 2024

First Published:
February 11, 2022


Dr. Chester M. Pierce, a psychiatry professor at Harvard, coined the term ‘microaggression’ in 1970 to document day-to-day verbal insults (microinsults), subtle derogations (micro assaults) and dismissals (microinvalidations) aimed at minoritized groups. Some documented microaggressions include asking questions like ‘but where are you really from?’ to a person of color or saying that someone is ‘pretty strong for a woman.’ Another example may include being dismissive of someone’s gender identity by saying something like “There are too many genders to keep up with these days.”

In the classroom, microaggressions can appear in student interactions, in faculty comments or lectures, and even in course materials. Fortunately, there are many ways to address and mitigate microaggressions in the classroom, including awareness techniques, micro-interventions, conversation tools, and open dialogues.

Use the comments section below to let us know how you think about avoiding and dealing with microaggressions.

  • Microaggressions have been found to negatively impact the careers of women and minoritized racial groups in science fields. In particular, research participants noted microaggressions impacting their careers in four areas, including (1) detrimental to psychological well-being, (2) mobility across science contexts, (3) pressure to prove ability and competence, and (4) sense of social isolation.

  • Microaggressions in learning environments lead to students feeling othered. To mitigate these microaggressions, consider making shifts to your teaching, including i) presenting facts about identity-based health disparities with socio-historic context, ii) ensuring your course content includes meaningful, diverse representation and iii) using people-first language (‘a person of color’ or ‘a patient of a lower socioeconomic status’), rather than identity-first language.

  1. Talk to your students about microaggressions, including microinsults, micro assaults and microinvalidations, at the beginning of the semester when establishing guidelines for the course. Offer them clear examples of each and discuss how to mitigate and address them in the classroom.

  2. Foster inquisitive dialogue when a microaggression occurs in the classroom. Saying ‘tell me what you mean by that statement’ can prompt further discussion and inquiry into biases.

  3. Use ‘micro-affirmations,’ including listening actively, validating experiences, and affirming emotional reactions to create inclusive spaces and to model inclusive behaviors for students.

  4. Implement “Open the Front Door” (state what you Observe, Think, Feel, and want students to Do) if a situation escalates.