Statement of Purpose
- Raise awareness about campus climate as experienced by diverse members of the College community
- Demonstrate how microaggressions manifest around campus and the broader communities in which we live and work.
- Define and describe microaggressions and provide a space for resources and additional information on relevant topics.
Why the Davidson Microaggressions Project?
Davidson College’s website states a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion:
“Davidson’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity is grounded in the college’s Statement of Purpose and extends to the entire Davidson community. The college seeks to foster mutual respect and understanding among and for all people of different cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, sexual orientations, genders, ages, national origins, socio-economic backgrounds, and physical abilities.”
Microaggressions refer to the derogatory (non)verbal, behavioral, and environmental messages and experiences by members of marginalized groups (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007). Ascription and avowal processes of interpersonal interaction anchor the familiar ways in which microaggressions occur for many (Martin & Nakayama, 2010). Though the term microaggression has become a buzzword in today’s society, frequently appearing in popular news stories and in social media feeds pertaining to social life on college campuses, over 5,000 studies over the last 8+ years exist on the topic; Wing Sue notes that research focuses on how such seemingly minor slights are harmful and have shown to impact students’ academic performance, mental health, and work productivity. Of course, microaggressions affect non-majority group members and oftentimes serve to perpetuate their position as “other”, relegated to the margins of a given community or institutional fabric, not limited to college campuses or students. Our project concentrates on the Davidson College campus community as a rich site in need of attention to this widespread issue.
Students and faculty from underrepresented populations who enter historically white socioeconomically privileging academic institutions typically experience microaggressions based on others’ reactions to any number of their embodied (or assumed) intersectional identities. This is part of the growing pains of diversification and inclusion efforts on the structural, systemic, institutional levels despite their stemming from genuinely good intentions. It is difficult to be part of the growing pains of diversity and inclusion, constantly shouldering these burdens and doing the one-on-one corrective work is time consuming, exhausting emotional and psychological labor. The labor is invisible as it is not usually recognized or formally accounted for as part of one’s duties as an employee or a student. Oftentimes, stories about microaggressions unfold in backstage communal settings, shared in solidarity, and in the spirit of the shared struggle to strategize responses to these seemingly innocent –and other times, not innocent—but nevertheless painful diminishments. The fact that these stories and experiences repeatedly occur and yet reside on the margins and among minority/marginalized in-group members in in-group settings/spaces perpetuates the taboo nature of the subtle yet harmful perpetuation of microaggressions as a campus reality. Silence signals compliance and ultimately serves to protect, uphold, and maintain the status quo of racist-classist-sexist (among other) frames of others in society (Lorde, 2012).
In recent years, colleges and universities across the nation have responded to the proliferation of microaggressions by forming online outlets for showcasing these stories and making them accessible to others. For example, the University of Michigan – Flint launched a Bias Incident Report website with “bias” defined as “intentional and unintentional acts of oppression and marginalization that can interfere with student success and our broader efforts to build a climate that truly supports each and every individual student” (Schow, 2016). Students at the University of Southern California worked through the Student Government Association to initiate campus policies, training, and resources to improve diversity commitments and help shed light on the microaggressions, which are often referred to as the “new form of racism” because of the subtler ways they fuel hostile environments for those on the receiving end (Watanabe & Song, 2015). Additionally, students are sharing their experiences by creating entire external websites to host microaggression stories and through social media, including hashtags on Twitter and Facebook pages, such as the ones created by students at Harvard, Oberlin, Brown, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, Columbia, Willamette and many other colleges and universities. In 2010, The Microaggressions Project was created via Tumblr and gained widespread attention. The project has been featured in The New York Times, Feministing, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Buzzfeed, among other outlets, and has over 20,000 Tumblr followers. People can submit microaggressions anonymously with a key pull quote and then story context in the box that accompanies the quote. Each post includes the capability for users to “like,” comment, and share posts.
Inspired by the #itooamharvard project, Davidson student artists/activists created the #itooamdavidson.tumblr.com page to serve as a performative platform for sharing experiences with microaggressions and social marginalization at Davidson. A similar project started by Davidson students is the Outsider Monologues. These two Davidson projects are wonderful awareness-raising initiatives by and for our campus community members, featuring photographs of students holding white boards with short messages that make poignant statements to call out microaggressions. The sites are not maintained on a routine basis, which means the content is a visual showcase available online but not actually an ongoing resource that folks might revisit for new content and continued learning. One addition that would enrich these projects is feedback for what one might consider saying or doing if and when they perpetuate a microaggression. Another angle includes featuring the stories of the perpetrators as well because these are rarely, if ever, shared on the platforms, which may only reinforce the assumption that only certain kinds of “bad” or “ignorant” people perpetuate microaggressions when in fact we are all guilty at times. Nevertheless, taken together, the online platforms used in the preceding examples strategically centralize the focus on the stories as told by those with these experiences. In some cases, the anonymity of submissions or choice to include identifier information is important for the candid nature of the posts. These microaggression projects successfully and powerfully bring the backstage to the frontstage to raise awareness and problematize their surface-level innocence. There is power in naming and making visible these occurrences as they are prevalent within and outside of our campus community context.
Ideally, members of the Davidson College community might look at this online presence as a glimpse into the lived reality of those who exist as integral to the diversity and inclusion growing pains. While this online presence disrupts the pleasant Davidson bubble, it creates an important space for these stories to come out of the shadows as we continually work towards improving the quality of experience as part of the evolving fabric of the College. The shared goal in embarking on this endeavor remains providing the opportunity and platform where those afflicted may speak candidly in their testimonios of microaggressions to ultimately highlight possibilities and opportunities for furthering diversity and inclusion initiatives. By naming the microaggressions through shared testimonios, we name the myriad sources of oppression to arrest their impact (Latina Feminist Group, 2001; Reyes & Curry Rodríguez, 2012).
Hill Collins, P., & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality. John Wiley & Sons.
Latina Feminist Group. (2001). Telling to live: Latina feminist testimonios. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Lorde, A. (2012). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Crossing Press.
Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2010). Intercultural communication in contexts. New York: McGraw Hill.
Reyes, K. B., & Curry Rodríguez, J. E. (2012). Testimonio: Origins, terms, and resources. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(3), 525-538.
Schow, A. (2016, February 24). University introduces website to report microaggressions. [Web log]. Retrieved fromhttp://www.washingtonexaminer.com/university-introduces-website-to-report-microaggressions/article/2584111
Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons.
Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American psychologist, 62(4), 271.
The Microaggressions Project (2017, June). Retrieved fromhttp://www.microaggressions.com/
Watanabe, T. & Song, J. (2015, November 12). College students confront subtler forms of bias: slights and snubs. [Web log]. Retrieved fromhttp://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-college-microaggression-20151112-story.html.