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4 Strategies For Managing Microaggressions in an Online Class Environment

4 Strategies To Managing Microaggressions in an Online Class Environment

Table of Contents

Summary

Microaggressions are derogatory, dismissive, or demeaning communications that can be so subtle that they go unnoticed by those directly affected and viewing them. It can be challenging to address microaggressions between students in an asynchronous online class environment. Here are 4 strategies that can help!

What are Microaggressions? 

Microaggressions are derogatory, dismissive, or demeaning communications that can be so subtle that they go unnoticed by those directly affected and viewing them. While microaggressions historically have been associated with race, ethnicity, and religion, there are many other group demographics that might be targeted by microaggressions, like gender, age, socioeconomic status, and physical and intellectual ability. 

Microaggressions can be conscious or unconscious actions. Conscious actions are taken intentionally, while unconscious actions are taken without us even realizing it. 

It can be challenging to address microaggressions between students in an asynchronous online class environment, as interactions do not take place in real time. Additionally, you can’t see body language, only words, so it may be harder to assess if harm was intended.  

If you are new to online teaching, you may not have received training on how to navigate microaggressions. Even if you are an experienced online instructor, resolving microaggressions can make you feel like you work in HR as opposed to the classroom. Thankfully, there are strategies that you can implement to address microaggressions and maintain a safe classroom environment.  

What Could Microaggressions Look Like in a Virtual Class? 

Consider the following example of a microaggression being used by a student in an online discussion board. Each student is requested to upload a picture of themself and provide a brief introduction to the class in the virtual class cafe.  

Darby comments on Joe’s post: “Hey Joe, the picture of yourself that you uploaded for your introduction is huge; is your personality that big too?” 

Joe responds to Darby: “Yeah, well, this is my first online class and I’m still learning the technology part.” 

Darby responds to Joe: “By the looks of you and the size of your photo, it seems like you struggle with technology skills more than my dad – and you’re probably the same age! Hopefully, you know the number for tech support, because it sounds like you will need them on speed dial.”    

Whether Darby intended it or not, her comment may have offended Joe, as she is assuming he is older, and therefore, struggles with learning new technology – a common hurtful stereotype. The fact that Darby’s commentary is visible for the rest of the class to see may make Joe feel humiliated and as if he doesn’t belong. 

If not addressed by you, the instructor, this could have an impact on Joe’s self-confidence and performance in the class. Further, it could affect his perception of your ability to provide a safe virtual environment for him to learn.  

Why Do I Feel This Way? 

You may feel inadequate, nervous, angry, or disappointed at some of the language students use with each other, and you may question your ability to manage it. Like you, students come to class with histories and experiences that vary, and they could be harboring conscious or unconscious biases that could result in microaggressions. But remember, as an educator, you have an opportunity to turn a microaggression into a teachable moment for a student(s) and potentially for the entire class.  

You may feel uncomfortable navigating and addressing microaggressions, but part of your responsibility as a teacher is class management. Whether the affected student brought the alleged microaggression to you, another student in the class notified you, or you witnessed the event yourself, investigating the facts and addressing the situation will increase your self-efficacy to manage future events. It also shows students that you not only care about their academic performances, but also about their sense of safety in your class. 

4 Strategies (ACTS) for Addressing Microaggressions 

Act

Most asynchronous class learning platforms are visible 24/7, so your reaction time to address a microaggression is key. The microaggression may have come to you by complaint from a student(s) email, or you may have noticed it on the discussion board yourself; regardless, it is important to develop a plan to reach out to the affected students. Depending on the severity of the microaggression, you may need to delete the post from the discussion board.  

Connect

When a microaggression is hurled in a virtual classroom environment, it is best practice to set up a meeting with the primary students affected. This is typically two students (the one who made the comment and the receiver of the comment), and it’s important that you meet with them separately to hear their individual thoughts and feelings.

For the student who initiated the microaggression, be clear with them about what the violation is, even if you think it was unintended by the student. For the student who was the recipient of the microaggression, listen and reassure them you are aware of the situation and are addressing it. Depending on the situation, you may offer other students who witnessed the microaggression the opportunity to communicate with you as well. 

Teach

As an educator, you can turn this into a teachable moment for the student who initiated the microaggression. Most students are receptive to feedback, if approached in a constructive manner. The language you use often influences how others react. Try phrases like “can you think of a time you were singled out and how that felt?”, “consider if someone treated you like this”, or “respect that their history is different than yours.”  

Support

Use your institution’s resources to support your communications with students. This may include a student code of conduct, “netiquette” policy, or a syllabus that contains behavior expectations for the online classroom. If you are unsure about policies or resources, consult with your HR department or manager.  

Remember that your role is to manage the class and provide a safe environment for all of your students. Some students may need time to heal that extends beyond the class duration. If you notice that your student seems to need additional assistance to process the microaggression, consider referring them to the campus counseling center for ongoing support.  

Scholarly Sources  

Kwong, K. (2020). Teaching microaggressions, identity, and social justice: A reflective, experiential and collaborative pedagogical approach. International Journal of Higher Education, 9(4), 184-198. doi:10.5430/ijhe.v9n4p184  

Ortega, A., Andruczuyk, M., & Marquart, M. (2018). Addressing microaggressions and acts of oppression within online classrooms by utilizing principles of transformative learning and liberatory education. Journal of Ethnics & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 27(1), 28-40. doi:10.1080/15313204.2017.1417945 

Sue D. W. (2010), Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation (1st ed.). John Wiley & Sons. 

Torres, F. (2018). Managing microaggressions for more inclusive online learning. California Community Colleges. 

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