Microaggressions are brief, everyday interactions that send denigrating messages to people, which are subtle and insidious, often leaving the victim confused, distressed and frustrated and the perpetrator oblivious of the offense they have caused. Microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional.
Intent is not the same as impact, and a throw-away comment or joke can have a huge impact on another person. It is everyone’s responsibility to think about the impact that their words might have on someone else.
Examples of microaggression include:
- Backhanded compliments
- Avoiding or turning one's back on certain people
- Being misgendered (especially after sharing one’s pronouns)
- Asking someone “Where are you really from?”.
- Referring to a professional woman as a ‘girl’.
- Asking a black person if that is their ‘natural’ hair.
- Catcalling or sexual objectification.
- Assuming intellectual inferiority based on race.
- Endorsing religious stereotypes.
- Casual use of derogatory slurs.
Report to the University
Use the Report and Support system to report a microaggression incident to the University of St Andrews. You can choose to do this anonymously or you can request support from an adviser.
Staff members can also report to:
Informal options you could take
If you can safely confront the person and feel comfortable doing so, these are some suggestions for how to deal with the situation (these suggestions are from A Guide to Responding to Microaggressions):
- Ask for more clarification: “Could you say more about what you mean by that?” or “How have you come to think that?”
- Separate intent from impact: “I know you didn’t realise this, but when you said/did that, it was hurtful/offensive. Instead you could use different language or behaviour.”
- Share your own process: “I noticed that you said/did something I used to do/say, but then I learned that it is harmful and I changed my language/actions.”
- When possible, give specific examples of the things they did or said, explain why they are harmful, and give specific suggestions of different language or behaviour they can use instead.
If you would like additional support, there are many resources available for both students and staff. Please see the how to get support page for more information.
- You could get advice or talk to someone with a similar experience from a relevant Students’ Association society or group.
If someone you know is experiencing microaggression
If you know someone who has experienced or is experiencing microaggression, you can help in the following ways:
- Listen. Taking the time to listen and talk about what has happened can help.
- Signpost options. Ask them if they’re okay to talk through some possible options for support or how they might report what has happened. Do not take on the role of a counsellor or therapist.
- Help them report. If they want to, and you feel able to, you can help them report the incident or incidents.