by Jess Dunn Instructional Consultant for TAs in the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University
The microcosm of the university can produce wonderful moments of introspection, encounter, and exchange but it can also produce terrible moments of oppression, aggression and interpersonal rupture. Often these terrible moments are not overt acts of racism, sexism, or heterosexism, but subtle expressions of these prejudices or microaggressions. When microaggressions occur in the context of the university classroom, professors and students alike are often frozen, unsure of what to do or if doing is even possible. One option is to respond to the microaggression with a form of micro-resistance.
Recently, while attending the annual Professional and Organization Development Network (POD) Conference in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to participate in a brief but extremely helpful training session led by Cynthia Ganote, Floyd Chueng, and Tasha Souza on a model of micro-resistance called Opening the Front Door (OTFD). The phrase “opening the front door” is a mnemonic device for the four steps of this model:
Observe: State in clear, unambiguous language what you see happening.
Think: Express what you think or what you imagine others might be thinking.
Feel: Express your feelings about the situation.
Desire: State what you would like to have happen.
This model was originally developed to help individuals who are the recipients of microaggressions and their allied colleagues to confront and resist these issues in the workplace, along and between various strata of power and hierarchy. The strength of this model is that it encourages direct and transparent communication while offering clear goals and instructions for how to proceed after the problem has been stated. It is also an incredibly flexible model which allows for a range of responses that are more or less confrontational depending on the environment, the power dynamic, and the interpersonal style of the individual. As suggested by someone in the session who is much quicker on the draw than myself, this strength and flexibility make it ideal for the classroom environment.
The following is an example of what this method might look like employed by a professor in an undergraduate classroom:
“I notice that, whenever we are talking about the impact of living in a low income environment on mental health a number of you refer to Brianna.” (Brianna is the only African American student in the class. She has mentioned in class, that she was inspired to go into psychology by her mother who is a neurologist.)
“I think that this might be happening because assumptions are being made about her background based on racial stereotypes that conflate socioeconomic status and race.”
“I am frustrated that Brianna continues to be spoken about in a way that is inconsistent with her lived experience and I am concerned that important aspects of what we have explored in class so far have not been attended to.”
“I want everyone in this class to be seen as a whole and complex person and treated thoughtfully and with respect. I would also like us all to be able to apply the information and ideas that we’ve discussed in class to our everyday lives and interactions.”
What this form of micro-resistance does is confront a classroom dynamic directly while minimizing embarrassment of individual students, including the recipient of the micro-aggression. It also takes the opportunity to couch the issues in terms of the specific content and over-reaching goals of the course. Finally, it expresses clear goals for how the problem will be addressed in the future as well as affirming a positive goal for the class as a whole, not just the individual student. Though this method by no means makes standing up and confronting microaggressions easy or risk-free, having tools at the ready makes us more likely to act and helps to promote intentional responses as opposed to knee-jerk reactions.
You’re invited to raise questions or give suggestions about resisting microaggressions in the classroom in the comments section. The Flourishing Academic wants to hear from you as do your colleagues!
Ganote, Cynthia, Cheung, Floyd, & Souza, Tasha, (2015) Don’t remain silent! Strategies for supporting colleagues via micro-resistance and ally development. Back to the Future: 40th Annual POD Conference.
Links to Other Relevant Posts