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SCS DEI Update

Nov. 12, 2021

Bias Busters Briefing

Following up on the previous briefing on microaggressions, we wanted to address some of the debate about the concept and dig deeper into exploring effective ways to disarm and respond to microaggressions when they occur.

There have been a number of critiques of the concept of microaggressions. The most publicly visible criticism has come from the late psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, who argued against the validity of the concept of microaggressions because of their ambiguity and subjectivity, and the difficulty in capturing or measuring them in empirical contexts, To Lilienfeld, the fact that the same behavior might be perceived by some people as a microaggression but not by others — for example, receiving praise for being "articulate" might be experienced as a racial insult or as a well-meaning (but perhaps short-sighted) compliment — called into question the scientific merit of microaggressions as a true, observable phenomenon.

In response to Lilienfield’s highly publicized claims, psychologist Monnica Williams issued a strong rebuttal, arguing that Lillienfeld’s criticism itself rested on premises that themselves were microaggressions, including the denial or minimization of marginalized group members' life experiences and Lilienfeld's failure to acknowledge research consistently demonstrating the true psychological and physical toll that microaggressions can exert on those who experience them. While Williams agreed with Lilienfeld about the subjectivity and ambiguity of microaggressions, she argued that "the default response should always be to believe and support someone reporting a microaggression." Williams also pointed out that the bulk of the critiques within the scientific community, including Lilliienfeld's, were coming from investigators who did themselves not study diversity and, moreover, were not members of identity groups who were the most likely to have experienced microaggressions themselves.

Other critiques have focused on the concern that the concept of microaggressions creates climates of fear and defensiveness, or that the concept depicts members of marginalized groups as defenseless victims. However, other work has sought to address these concerns head-on. For example, psychologist Kevin Nadal has studied the importance of courage, humility, grace and empathy in having conversations about microaggressions with others in our social and professional spheres. To those who may have exhibited a microaggression, Nadal advises: "Do your own work before you even get there. Read blogs and personal essays, understand the lived experiences of historically marginalized groups, watch documentaries and try to think outside of your own perspective." To those who are the targets of microaggressions, Nadal suggests, "Always be aware of yourself and your mental health when having these conversations. In a world where we all fought for social justice all the time, we would be getting into productive arguments and fights and having protests every day and changing laws, but we don't and we can't because we're also human and we need to rest." In a similar vein, demonstrations of inner strength and community power characterize the various strategies of resilience and resistance that are evidenced in marginalized communities’ responses to microaggressions. 

Announcements has released a new Statistics & Data Hub that brings together different sources of publicly available data to support PIs and departments in creating their BPC Plans. The Tools section contains web apps that summarize some of these public datasets. The Data section lists other useful public datasets, allowing PIs and departments to access data more specific to their context. Learn more on the BPCnet website.

UNC Chapel Hill is sponsoring queer_hack 2021 November 19-21, a beginner-friendly hackathon for LGBTQ+ students. A hackathon is typically a 24-48 hour event where teams work together to code a project from scratch. queer_hack 2021 is special because it is organized by and for LGBTQ+ students with the main goal of connecting and empowering students regardless of previous technical experience. There will be workshops, panels, social events, a career fair and a coding competition with $4,000 total in prizes like Apple AirPods Pro and an Oculus Quest 2. queer_hack 2021 is a great way to make friends, sharpen your technical skills and find an internship or full-time job. Register as a participant to secure your spot.

Academic Impressions will hold a virtual conference December 6-7 focused on faculty mentorship. This conference is designed to help both current faculty mentors and those who oversee faculty mentoring programs develop better inclusive mentoring practices. In addition, Faculty Mentorship: Incorporating Inclusive Practices to Foster Faculty Success is available to all CMU faculty at no cost. 

We will update again in December. Please take time to express gratitude on Thanksgiving weekend. We are grateful to the SCS community!

The DEI Team