Project targets microaggressions

By The Elm - Apr 18,2019@12:00 am

By Erica Quinones

Elm Staff Writer

The Lumen Project shed light on various aspects of microaggressions last week.

As part of Professor of Political Science and International Studies Dr. Christine Wade’s Human Rights and Social Justice course, senior Mai Do and juniors Ervens Jean-Pierre and Arianna Hall hosted a panel on microaggressions in Hynson Lounge on Thursday, April 11. 

The group was assigned a project to organize an advocacy event to address racism. 

They created The Lumen Project, an activist group addressing microaggressions. In addition to the panel, The Lumen Project created a petition asking WC to have mandatory bias training by 2025. Their “Implement racial bias training at Washington College” petition currently has 344 of 500 signatures and can be found on their Facebook page or at Change.org.

They decided to address microaggressions because they believe it is something that directly affects this campus.

“Here at WC, we don’t have the problem of explicit hate crimes happening all over the place,” Do said. “We’re lucky we don’t have that problem. But at the same time, as a person of color, I have experienced some problems where people make assumptions about me because of the way I look.”

There were seven panelists: Do, seniors Jalelewak Tolessa and Aziz Sbeih, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion Dr. Bin Song, Area Coordinator Nakia Johnson, Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates, and President and Co-Founder of Bayside HOYAS John Queen. Jean-Pierre facilitated the panel.

Jean-Pierre asked the panelists and audience questions dealing with how to define microaggressions and how to combat them.

When defining microaggressions, the panel agreed they are subtle, possibly unintentional acts of racism.

A microagression is “something that somebody does to you, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, that affects you and how you move and how you interact with other people,” Tolessa said. 

Panelists discussed how they are affected by microaggressions and the ways that microaggressions should be addressed. Opinions differed on whether or not microaggressions should be confronted head-on. 

“I have a job. I have a career. I have an image to maintain so I can continue to work. It is not safe for me to do that. It is rarely safe for me to do that,” Johnson said.

Others said if they suffered a microaggression, they would confront it. However, they also agreed it is important to use discretion and discussed how people of color in stable jobs may not challenge the system for fear of retaliation.

This avoidance of confrontation was a reaction shared by many in the audience. When Jean-Pierre asked the audience if they had ever reported a microaggression they suffered or witnessed, most students had not. One student expressed a fear of backlash or of not being taken seriously.

While personal decisions whether to confront microaggressions varied, the panelists agreed that they should be combatted, specifically through education. 

“You can’t get angry at ignorance, you need to use it as an educational moment,” Bates said. 

The panelists primarily supported exposure as a form of education. Students discussed making a world history class part of the distribution requirements, Song supported expanding the curriculum to include more non-Western philosophy and religion classes, and Bates suggested starting classes in elementary school in the hopes of spreading awareness of other cultures to reduce future microaggressions.

The Elm

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