By Tristin Taylor
At a campus such as ours, with people from so many ethnic backgrounds, there’s a perfect opportunity to learn about other cultures and perspectives. But it’s also very easy to offend someone without even knowing you are doing it.
“Hey, you’re Asian, you must be really good at math.”
“You’re Black, so you must have grown up in a rough neighborhood.”
“You must come from a really large family if you’re Hispanic.”
The term is called microaggression, and it manifests not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but also in gender, age, sexual orientation, and those with physical disabilities or mental illness. Even if someone says something with no harm intended, it can wound the person the comment is directed at, and those people have every right to be offended.
According to Elizabeth Schrock, the Title IX Officer at CSUDH, the term microaggression includes seemingly common verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious and other slights and insults to the target persons or groups. Individuals who receive the brunt of these comments the most are people from minority backgrounds.
And it happens regularly even on our campus.
“I was told one time that I didn’t act like a typical black guy,” said junior Jimmie Johnson, a business marketing major. “Somebody told me that they were scared of me at first but then realized I was cool afterward, which confused me.”
Anthony Casillas, a public relations major and president of the PRSSA on campus, said that he experiences microaggressions all too often.
“When I mention to people that I’m Mexican, people doubt and ask me if I’m sure as if I’m unaware of my heritage or ethnicity,” said Casillas. “People typically classify Mexicans as only dark, short and Spanish speaking and it isn’t plausible for people of a certain ethnicity or background to look different than what is assumed.”
While microaggressions from students toward other students might be expected, considering our relatively limited life experience, it even happens among faculty members.
“I was upstairs grabbing a hot tea and another faculty member, who didn’t recognize me as a faculty member, came up to me and started touching my twists and then said that my hair was nice and then proceeded to call me sister,” said Meryah Fisher, an instructor in the African Studies Department. “He was a non-Black faculty member and when he did this I was taken aback by it because I wasn’t expecting this type of interaction. All I could say was thank you.”
While the people who endure these microaggressions have every right to be offended, Dr. John Davis, the dean of the College of Education, who said it’s important that students don’t let these comments definite them as individuals.
“With microaggression, there isn’t a one-stop solution or single empathies or trigger for any particular person,” said Davis. “With our students on campus, if they receive a specific comment, it can be an incentive to propel them forward and to know that they don’t have to let the comments affect them or what their purpose is.”
Students on campus that deal with microaggressions can find solace in a wealth of on-campus resources, such as ally training. They can also report forms of microaggression harassment by sending an email to Schrock at firstname.lastname@example.org or the website www.csudh.edu/gei/make-report.