ICIE leads assemblies addressing microagressions

Henry Owens, Staff Writer

Over the past two months, each grade in the Middle Division (MD) has had an assembly about microaggressions titled “Having Good Intentions Isn’t Enough.” These three assemblies were led by Candice Powell-Caldwell, an associate of the Office for Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity (ICIE).

The assemblies were created as a way of continuing the conversation about microaggressions started last year with guest speaker Dr. Derald Wing Sue, John Gentile, co-Director of the ICIE, said.

In Sue’s 2010 book, Microaggressions in Everyday Life, he defines microaggression as, “The everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs and insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory and negative messages to target persons solely on their marginalized group membership.”

MD grade deans felt that these assemblies were important for the middle school students, they said.

“As an educator, it is vital to teach our students the importance of having a safe environment and to educate everyone about the ways in which we all can take action by recognizing behavior that may be hurtful and offensive,” Dean of the Class of 2023 Carlos Aguilar said.

“The objective was to provide students with education about microaggressions and to give them some tools and strategies for how best to identify and address microaggressions when they occur,” Powell-Caldwell said.

“[Powell-Caldwell] talked about really appropriate and accessible ways to think about how microaggressions pop up, the ways we can address them, and what that looks like,” Gentile said.

Material covered in the assemblies included distinguishing between types of microaggression, specifically verbal, nonverbal, and environmental, and the various levels of impact, such as individual, group, and systemic. The difference between intent and impact was another very important point that was discussed.

“When we live in a place of intent, we become so focused on who the person is, on whether or not someone meant to do it,” Powell-Caldwell said. “In this way, it becomes so easy to dismiss a microaggression altogether. Ultimately what matters is the effect or impact of the words or actions that have taken place. Microaggressions are very much about addressing the impact.”

“Microaggressions can be intentional and unintentional,” Sienna Larren (6) said. “Body language or saying something could hurt other people’s feelings.”

One thing Nolan Wallace (7) learned was “don’t assume what people are like,” he said. “Don’t follow what the stereotypes want you to believe.”

“I think the biggest takeaway was about secrecy,” Jiwan Kim (6) said. “Always talk to an adult. Always speak out.”

Director of the ICIE Patricia Zuroski believes it was advantageous to have unified conversations for each grade, she said.

“All the students have heard the same thing,” Zuroski said. “They have had one conversation, giving them all terminology, language, and a way to talk about that subject. The teachers are also present. We’ve laid a foundation for the whole grade, so that when they talk about it in their classrooms, they are all beginning in the same place.”

After each of the assemblies, the grades broke out into smaller advisory groups to do activities related to the topic of microaggressions. This included more in-depth discussion and acting out different scenarios. Students role played certain situations to better understand how to address microaggressions from the perspective of the target and bystander.

“The more conversations we have where we can educate the community towards healthy ways of communication where equity, inclusion and respect are the norm, the better human beings we all will be,” Aguilar said. “It’s about humanity and safety in all areas of our lives.”

“No one is free from making mistakes; we all make mistakes,” Powell-Caldwell said. “What’s important is not that we pretend those mistakes don’t happen; what matters is how we learn from our missteps and recover as we move forward.”