Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment. (Source)
I finally know the answer. This lecture hall is always silent—most of the class is half asleep. Ten weeks into the semester and I’m about to speak in class for the first time. The professor has to repeat questions three times, raising his voice each time to scare someone into answering.
For the first time, I’m not shrinking into my seat. I stick my hand in the air. Everyone is the lecture hall is staring at their keyboards. The professor looks around the classroom. I’m sure he’s about to call on me.
And a guy in the front row starts talking, confidently giving the wrong answer, no raised hand to be seen.
I put my hand down, glance at the girl next to me, who gives me a knowing look.
Let me be clear—there is nothing wrong with being wrong in class. We are here to learn, and making mistakes is part of learning. There is no shame in taking a chance and falling a little short. But that wasn’t the problem here. This experience was just one of the small ways that women experience microaggressions in the classroom. It’s a subtle reminder that although you may be in the classroom, you have no ownership of the space.
The following are the most common microaggressions I experience in classrooms. I’m speaking from my experience as a white cis-woman with boatloads of privilege, but please keep in mind that microaggressions impact many students of different identities.
The “no raised hand” That first scenario? I’ve seen this happen in every lecture class I’ve ever been in. Women tend to raise their hands while many guys just start speaking. In a lecture hall of 200 people they feel entitled to speak as if it’s a small discussion seminar. Come on ya’ll. Raising your hand in class is just common courtesy! We’ve all been doing this since the first grade.
The Professor Interruption When women do answer questions, I’ve seen some professors interrupt, jump in and finish the woman’s thought. Then female students have to interject and clarify that the professor actually didn’t represent what they were trying to say. Again, ya’ll! This is so easy to fix- let students explain themselves!
The “super intense ” In my first year seminar I was called “super intense” by male classmates because I spoke in class discussions. This was yet another class where nobody spoke, students would be giving presentations and asking questions to a completely silent class. So I answered their questions, spoke up, helped them out as they were very clearly panicking. I made a concerted effort not to speak too often. But speaking more than twice gets you labeled “super intense.” Meanwhile, the guys were passionate and intellectual. Why are we taught that caring about a subject and being engaged in a class is unattractive? There is clearly a difference between adding something to a discussion and monopolizing the class that everyone needs to be aware of, but this isn’t really about that. It’s about making women second guess their right to speak, and making them feel guilty for speaking at all.
The Laptop Question Our professor is bemoaning the low attendance in his class and then adds that those who do attend rarely pay attention. “How many of you are online shopping right now? And then let’s sort that by gender.” He laughs. Hahaha I’m taking notes right now but it is always fun to know that you assume female students are online shopping during class. Do you know what does not increase my enthusiasm about a class? Having the professor say to the entire class that he thinks many of the women in the classroom are shopping online.
The Front Row. This one isn’t exactly a microaggression, but it’s another indication of a lack of confidence on the part of women in classrooms. Next time you’re in a large lecture hall that’s not a WGST class, check out who all is in the front row. What is the deal with this ya’ll? I know that I tend to sit in the third or fourth row because I worry that sitting in the first row will make people think I’m overeager or a teacher’s pet.
Women may be attending college in high numbers, we may make up most of UNC-Chapel Hill’s population, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting equal space in the classroom. These microaggressions remind us every day that this is still not our space.
I know that these are just a few instances of microaggressions in the classroom, and I bet you have your own list of stories. Share them with us and help us push back on the everyday discrimination that happens in our classrooms.
Share your microaggression stories with us here. UNC Siren will reblog your stories to promote awareness about microaggressions and to work towards a safer, more inclusive campus community.