The Hidden Harms of Microaggressions

In today’s society, microaggressions have become a barrier to fostering inclusive environments -particularly in academic settings. When discussing microaggressions, it’s important to understand the concept itself. According to Derald Wing Sue a psychologist and expert on the topic, “Microaggressions are the everyday slights, insults, putdowns, invalidations, and offensive behaviors that people experience in daily interactions with generally well-intentioned individuals who may be unaware that they have engaged in demeaning ways.” (Microaggressions/ Microaffirmations | Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, n.d.)

Microaggressions have an “othering” effect, particularly for members of marginalized groups who are perceived as outsiders in communities where they should feel a sense of belonging.

According to the author Sofia Garcia-Bullee, “Otherness defines people based on how they differ from the group, how we see ourselves. When we call someone “the other” rather than “one of us,” we create a social, relational, psychological, and emotional distance that justifies the transgression of forbidden boundaries within our group.” (García, 2022)

This sense of being an outsider undermines the experience of feeling connected, accepted, and valued within a community – which is so important in academic settings. A sense of belonging cannot be overstated as it is essential so that individuals are more likely to have positive experiences and become more resilient to challenges. Not only have I, but Sacred Heart University as well, been striving to foster an atmosphere of respect and understanding. It is important to create conversations about microaggressions as covert acts of discrimination and delve into the potential consequences or effects for our community.

Imagine sitting in a meeting, while discussing current events, and suddenly you feel a sharp jab in your side – it is a tiny insignificant gesture but leaves you with some discomfort. This scenario may seem familiar to many as it reflects the subtle yet impactful nature of microaggressions. I have personally experienced the wincing effect of microaggressions. My name is Tiyaira (Tee-air-uh) but more than often I do not introduce myself by my first name. When I introduce myself as Tiyaira, people often hear ‘Tiara.’ I guess I should just embrace it and start wearing a crown everywhere I go! The mispronunciation of my name has made me feel” othered” and signaled an atmosphere where I don’t completely belong.

Our name is the first part of our identity that others learn. According to American author Ralph Ellison, “It is through our names that we first place ourselves in the world. Our names, being the gift of others, must be made our own.” (Identity and Names, 2017) As a result of the pronunciation difficulties of my name, I just introduce myself as T. There are days when I get tired of hearing T and just want to be called by my first name. I have to change how I identify myself because others unconsciously say my name wrong. The constant mispronunciation of my name impacts my sense of identity. I want to reclaim the ownership of my name and be addressed by it correctly. It’s not just a matter of pronunciation; it’s about my individuality.

Honoring an individual’s identity is important as mispronunciations can cause microaggressions. It is a small but significant step in creating an inclusive environment.

About the author

Graduate Assistant, Office of Community Engagement

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