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Breaking down bias to build a better campus

Microaggression-awareness initiative and trainings provide a space to recognize and reconcile personal biases.

By Myron Anderson

September 4, 2018

Students walking across MSU Denver campusYou’re so gay.
You don’t look disabled.
I am surprised you have made it this far in college.
Oh … you’re just an assistant.
You people.

Microaggressions – the statements or behaviors that, intentionally or unintentionally, communicate hostility or negative messages about a particular group – are, unfortunately, everywhere. Born out of personal biases, microaggressions often relate to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability or other identity categories. They take place in clinical spaces, classrooms, boardrooms and everyday life.

College campuses are not immune to microaggressions, and it is important to identify and remove them as they have a negative impact on recipients, bystanders and the overall climate of your department.

Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion worked with the Center for Equity and Student Achievement to develop a microaggression-awareness initiative to help faculty, staff and eventually students recognize and reconcile the personal biases that can contribute to microaggression behaviors.

The two offices used national research and results from MSU Denver’s Campus Climate surveys to develop a video and a 90-minute interactive training session to help faculty and staff understand the physical, psychological and environmental effects of microaggressions. The session recognizes the relationship between microaggressions and personal biases and provides greater clarity about their impact.

During the session, participants collaborate to identify real-life microaggressions and lay the foundation for creating an action plan to remove them from our MSU Denver community.

“We work here because we want to work with and for the students of MSU Denver,” said Brandi Scott, associate dean of Equity and Student Achievement. “It’s not just educating our students but also understanding their identities and backgrounds — and how our subtle bias can impact their ability to persist.”

The sessions are not intended to call out any groups or individuals. Instead, the sessions will allow participants to reflect on how their socialization can lead to microaggression actions and behaviors.

“It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s time (faculty and staff) had this conversation, particularly because as a campus that is so diverse, the existence of difference makes us think we’re doing OK,” Scott said. “But (the existence of) diversity doesn’t mean subtle forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and difference biases aren’t happening.”

Check out the microaggression-awareness initiative video to see your colleagues’ reflections on microaggressions and the fall professional-development opportunities on the topic.

For more information about the microaggression-awareness initiative and training sessions, please contact Brandi Scott or Myron R. Anderson, Ph.D., associate to the president for diversity.

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