Microaggression in a Christian Community

Dr. Ruben Rivera and Leah Fulton gather with Bethel community members to define microaggression.

Bethel University faculty, staff and students looked around, trying to determine whether or not they could laugh at the joke made by Dr. Ruben Rivera without unintentionally doing exactly what they had come to talk about.

Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Ruben Rivera and Associate Dean of Intercultural Student Programs and Services Leah Fulton led a discussion for community members surrounding the issue of microaggressions Oct. 6 in the library’s Fireside Lounge. The first in a two part series entitled “Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts”, Thursday’s session focussed on defining microaggressions and helping community members recognize when they are taking place.

Rivera and Fulton began by highlighting common phrases that might be said with the best intentions, but can actually be painful to the ones receiving them, “I don’t see color” being the first example.

“It’s not the single comment, it’s the sum total.” — Leah Fulton, Associate Dean of Intercultural Student Programs and Services

“Why might that hurt?” Fulton asked the audience.

One faculty member explained, “If her color is part of her identity, [then saying this] means that her identity is not important to you.”

“It also ignores the reality of what people of color have experienced historically,” contributed another.

“Part of what’s especially difficult,” Fulton elaborated, “[is that] historical and systemic realities make some subject to microaggressions on a larger scale than others. So it’s not the single comment, it’s the sum total.”

According to Rivera and Fulton, there are three types of microaggressions.

1) Microassaults: explicit, racial derogations intended to hurt the victim

2) Microinsult: convey rudeness or insensitivity and demean a racial or ethnic heritage, often unintentionally

3) Microinvalidations: exclude or negate the thoughts or feelings of a person of color, often unconscious

“It’s not that you’re intending to be offensive or to be cruel, but that might be how someone hears it. That’s an important thing to be more aware of.” — Nathan Gossett, Associate Professor and Department Chair of mathematics and computer science

With Bethel encouraging faculty and staff to be more aware of microaggressions happening around them, discussions like this are integral parts in educating community members on what to be looking for.

“I think it is important to get people aware of, you know, you might have grown up in a particular cultural environment — things that you wouldn’t have thought twice about in that environment might not be interpreted the same way by someone who comes from a different background,” associate professor and department chair of mathematics and computer science Nathan Gossett said, reflecting on the event, “It’s not that you’re intending to be offensive or to be cruel, but that might be how someone hears it. That’s an important thing to be more aware of.”

The session was recorded and is now available online in Bethel University Digital Library’s Youtube account.

Other news:

● Join Dr. Rivera and Leah Fulton for the second session of “Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts” Nov. 1st at 10:20 in the library Fireside Lounge

● Bethel community members will be hosting a celebration of Hispanic culture and art Thursday, Oct. 13 from 7–9 p.m. in Brushaber Commons

● Western State Colorado University professor Melanie Hulbert will lead a two-part conversation centered around white identity Nov. 14th and 15th from 7–9 p.m. each night in the Eastlund Room