Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Logo
Apply to SIUE

Center for Faculty Development and Innovation
ISSI Masthead

Microaggressions in the Classroom

"Microaggressions are 'commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults' (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder & Nadal, 2007)."

"Some examples of microaggression (DU CME):

  • Setting low expectations for student from particular groups, neighborhoods, or feeder patterns.
  • Using inappropriate humor in class that degrades students from different groups.
  • Singling students out in class because of their backgrounds.
  • Complimenting non-white students on their ust of 'good English.'"

Microaggressions impact those who receive them by making them feel (SIUE Office of Diversity and Inclusion, 2011; Harwood et al. 2015):

  • Uncomfortable on campus because of their race or other characteristic
  • That their contributions or opinions are minimized, ignored, or not granted validity
  • Inferior because of the way they speak
  • That they are not taken seriously in class because of their race or other characteristic
  • That they do not belong or are unwelcomed

"Suggestions for Avoiding Microaggressions in the Classroom (DU CME)

1.  Don’t expect students to be experts on any experiences beyond their own and don’t make them speak for their entire group.

2.  Set high expectations for all students.

3.  Don’t assume that all of your students have a good command of the English language or familiarity with U.S. culture. Many international students are not familiar with U.S. slang words or other language idiosyncrasies.

4.  When students have the courage to let you know they were offended by a remark or action, listen to them without being defensive. Try to increase understanding through dialogue."

"Ways of responding to microaggressions when we witness others doing them:

  • Recognize that it happened.
  • Acknowledge that it happened (at the time or later) to the person affected.
  • Be an active bystander: not just someone who thinks of themselves as an ally or knows what oppression looks like, but actually does something about it.
  • Calling in vs. calling out. Calling someone out on their inappropriate behavior may help them recognize their mistake, but calling someone in is a more compassionate alternative. Calling someone in on their hurtful or oppressive behavior means to assume that the person did not intend to be hurtful or oppressive and did not fully understand the impact of their actions. Calling someone in is to communicate with that person, using an appropriate communication channel, to let them know what the specific hurtful or oppressive behavior was and explain why it was inappropriate. The goal of calling in is not to shame the person, but to compassionately educate that person and encourage behavior change ("

"Examples of Ways to Respond to Microaggressions (Creating a Positive Classroom Climate for Diversity)

Example 1:  Inquire

When one students suggests that a statement made by a character in a book is offensive to Asian women, another student says 'That’s not offensive. That’s reality.'

Response: 'I understand that you disagree. Can you tell me what you mean?'

Example 2:  Paraphrasing as a means of reflection

A white student says, 'I don’t understand why we always have to talk about race. It’s not always about race.'

Response:  'It sounds like you are concerned and frustrated about the focus of discussion. What is it that concerns you most?'

Example 3:  Use an 'I' statement

A male student responds to a comment with a joke, 'Does your mom know you’re gay?'

Response:  'I didn’t find that joke funny. Please remember our class ground rules and be respectful of each other.'

Example 4:  Redirect and Reframe

When asked a question about terrorism, a student suggests that another hijab-wearing student would be better able to answer the question.

Response: 'She can decide if she would like to comment. I’m interested in the perspectives of all the students in this class so that we can think about this topic together. Over the years, many groups have engaged in terrorism. Can anyone give me some examples?'"

"Classroom Strategies (Theater Delta)

  • Explain the value of diversity but also recognize common experiences.
  • Name the dynamics.
    • Acknowledge conflict when it happens.
    • Acknowledge the silence.
    • Acknowledge that these discussions are hard.
    • Acknowledge your own identities (e.g., faculty privilege, lack of experience being targeted in a particular area).
    • Acknowledge that the discussion is difficult for you too, but you will do your best.
  • Be present and use active listening skills.
  • Be intentional with group formation (try to create diverse groups).
    • Acknowledge the inevitable tokenism."

"A few thoughts on responding to microaggressions as the perpetrator:

  • Practice the virtue of humility: being aware that you, despite your best intentions, may make errors or not be fully aware of circumstances that affect the way your words fall. The virtuous person who is humble reflects on their actions in the light of criticism and takes seriously the possibility that others have insights to offer.
  • Acknowledge what you did, and strive to not do it again.

Source:  Alison Reiheld, Womens Studies Program Director"


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). Why do Student development and course climate matter for student learning?  In How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Harwood, S. A., Choi, S., Orozco, M., Browne Huntt, M., & Mendenhall, R. (2015).  Racial microaggressions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:  Voices of students of color in the classroom.  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Microaggressions in the Classroom (2015).  Creating a Positive Climate for Diversity.

Microaggressions in the Classroom (University of Denver, Center for Multicultural Excellence) 

PaperClip Communications.  (2016). Informed discussions:  Civil and respectful communication discourse & debate in the classroom.

Theatre Delta.  Strategies for Addressing Conflict around Social Identities in the Classroom - Handout from SIUE Campus Workshop September 2016.

Women’s Studies Solidarity and Activism Start-up Kit

facebookoff twitteroff vineoff linkedinoff flickeroff instagramoff socialoff