In a follow-up to our October student assemblies on microaggressions (which covered what microaggressions are and how they affect our community), last week Director of Lower & Middle School Dr. Zanita Kelly and facilitator and culturally responsive teaching expert Ian Tatum led another series of assemblies on how to respond to and disrupt microaggressions in the moment they occur.

Students shared feelings of uncertainty around how to respond to such experiences and many expressed their desire for peers or teachers who witness the microaggression occurring to better support them in the moment. Tatum provided strategies that can be used to disrupt microaggressions as they happen, which included the following:

  • Restating or paraphrasing. Saying “I think I heard you saying [paraphrase their comments]. Is that correct?” gives the person an opportunity to hear their words reflected back to them.
  • Asking for clarification or more information. “Could you say more about what you mean by that? How have you come to think that?”
  • Acknowledging the feelings behind the statement. Expressing empathy and compassion, or saying, “I can understand that you’re upset when you feel disrespected, but here’s how that made me/others feel when you said that.”
  • Expressing your feelings. Saying, “When you said [comment/behavior], I felt [feeling] and I would like you to [action],” makes it clear why you think what was said or done is not okay.
  • Challenging the stereotype. Give information, share your own experience, or offer alternative perspectives.
  • Appealing to values and principles. “I know you really care about [value]. Acting in this way really undermines those intentions.”
  • Promoting empathy. Ask how they would feel if someone said something like that about their group, or their friend/family member/child/etc.
  • Pretending you don’t understand. As people try to explain their comments, they often realize how silly they sound. Phrases like “Why is that funny?” can cause people to self-reflect.
  • Reminding them of the rules or policies. “That behavior is against our code of conduct and could really get you in trouble.”
  • Walking away from the conversation or removing oneself from the situation. Not every circumstance requires you to engage at that moment. At times, it may not feel physically or emotionally safe for the person experiencing a microaggression to engage in the situation, and if that is the case, it is okay to table the conversation for another time.

On the final point, Tatum remarked that safety and comfort are not the same. “No one likes to be called out on their behavior, or ‘called in’, as I like to say,” he told students. “It doesn’t feel good. It’s not comfortable for anyone. But it is so important to use your voice to support agency and access for underrepresented groups in your community. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi says that racism is a cancer that must be surgically removed, and with that, there’s a lot of hope for a future where we can all be a force for equity and justice.”