Students learn how to navigate microaggressions

The Otter Cross-Cultural Center (OC3) held a workshop titled Navigating Microaggressions, Microaffirmations, and Miscommunications in the Workplace on Thursday, March 17.

The event host, Gabriel Morales, is a third-year social, behavioral science transfer student from North San Diego County. He started by acknowledging that California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) resides in the indigenous homeland of the Esselen tribe. He reminded attendees to “respect the land. It is naturally biodiverse, unique, and beautiful.”

The OC3 house rule is, “what is said here stays here, what is learned here leaves here,” which aims to establish healthy boundaries for navigating discourse respectfully and educationally.

The group was encouraged to reflect on how their ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexuality, class, age, and physical health intersect to create varying relationships with discrimination, oppression, and privilege.

Morales defined microaggressions as “subtle acts of intentional or unintentional discrimination that can cause negative emotions and feelings of ostracism.” Common microaggressions include commentary on one’s ability to complete a task, jokes, fascination with “otherness,” tone policing, mispronunciation of names, stereotyping, being assigned “babying” roles, and weaponizing incompetence.

“Above all, consider your safety,” Morales said. He provided the audience with different ways of handling microaggression, should they be on the receiving end. Sometimes in elements where personal safety is questionable, it is best to walk away. In safer, formal scenarios, one could ask the aggressor to elaborate on what they meant by their hateful statement. This could trigger the realization that they are not speaking constructively.

“It can be challenging to respond to microaggressions, but by responding, you are unloading internalized stress that doesn’t serve you,” Morales said. For those who feel safe reporting the incident, he recommends they “document as much as possible, contact HR, and utilize your rights as a worker.”

Above all, Morales explained it is crucial to remember “there is no wrong way to respond to a microaggression.”

Another way to combat microaggression is by using micro-affirmations as part of the solution. Micro-affirmations were introduced as a concept by scholar Mary Rowe, and defined by her as “gestures of inclusion and caring that lie in the practice of generosity.”

People can increase their ability to give micro-affirmations through personal emotional awareness. “When we’re aware of how we are feeling, we can better alter our behavior patterns.” Authors Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined the five pillars of emotional intelligence as: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. These pillars help provide the groundwork for mindful emotion monitoring.

Morales explained, they are crucial in maintaining emotional professionalism because “the more familiar you are with your patterns of behavior, the more you are receptive to the emotional needs of those around you.”

These skills will hopefully enable people to be a better collaborator wherever they go, regardless of if their future lies in academia or the workforce.

For students who missed the workshop but resonated with the ideas presented, Morales recommended D. Ivan Young’s TedTalk, Emotional Intelligence: Using the Laws of Attraction to the group for further education on the subject.

The OC3 aims to continue being an inclusive, safe space with plenty of resources for students in need. This event was an opportunity for meaningful conversation, with optional participation, and free food.

Students can reach out to the OC3 via email at [email protected] if they have questions on how the OC3 can support them during their time at CSUMB.

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