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Opinion & Editorial

Microaggressions and Major Consequences

A new word has surfaced in our community: microaggression. Microaggressions are defined by The Atlantic as “small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.” This term isn’t just gaining recognition in high circle of academia; rather, it has assumed a ubiquitous presence in our lives via social media, speeches, and diversity assemblies.

Last Thursday, Karina Walter gave her Junior Speech on the way microaggressions have affected her life and the way she views her ethnicity. Growing up, Karina was proud of her Bolivian heritage, choosing to express her culture in usernames like “karinabolivia” or “bolivianprincess,” and participating in traditional dance classes. But over the years, Karina, like so many others, has experienced a barrage of seemingly innocuous comments such as, “Where are you from?” or “You’re so exotic!” that made her question her pride.

Although these questions and comments seem anodyne or even complimentary to others, they gave Karina what she called a “sticky feeling” that made her lose pride in her identity as a Bolivian American. Unfortunately, Karina is not alone in this sentiment.

No individual in our Academy community or beyond should feel unwelcome or excluded. Nor should of us have to avoid an integral part of our identity. There is absolutely no excuse for demeaning, racist, ignorant comments, let alone in an academic environment.

There has certainly been improvement in our school’s diversity and understanding of what it means to be accepting and welcoming. However, while we may pat ourselves on the back because we have created a culture almost free of overt racism, the implications of microaggressions are not to be ignored.

It is common sense to acknowledge that creating a safer environment for students is a positive goal, but what are the consequences of hypersensitivity? Where do we draw the line between being careful and being afraid of ostracized if we slip up? Can our condemnation of others for making unwittingly offensive comments actually hurt us? According to The Atlantic’s recent article, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the answer is yes.

Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in students demanding protection from words, ideas, discussions, or even classic pieces of literature that they find unpleasant to discuss or upsetting to others. While this culture of sensitivity and cosseting might make for a more pleasant learning environment, avoiding certain subjects due to their disconcerting natures will ultimately prove disastrous to education and mental heath.

The most dangerous aspect of this new culture, according to The Atlantic, is the proliferation of requests for trigger warnings, which are “alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.” Beyond this, students are even requesting that “triggering” subjects not be covered at all. Law students have gone so far as requesting the omission of rape law; others have spoken out against professors teaching Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby due to its portrayal of misogynist culture and domestic abuse which could trigger the release of painful memories in victims of such abuse.

While the purpose of avoiding these triggering subjects is admirable, the students calling for hypersensitivity are actually harming the peers whom they are trying to protect. By avoiding triggering subjects, we are ignoring a basic tenet of psychology: “helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.” The best way to deal with fear is exposure therapy. Instead of insulating students from subjects they might find unsetting, we should be allowing them to explore the issues in the safe environment of the classroom.

Skirting an issue will only bolster the power it holds over us. Confronting an issue head-on empowers.


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