Hello! In our 4th meeting, on May 18th, we will discuss microaggressions.

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Microaggressions are all those acts, verbal or not, that are often automatic and unconscious but denigrate an individual or a collective based on identity (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.). They are considered minor and/or very difficult to identify. Usually the affected minority will recognize the microaggression due to constant repetition of similar microaggressions in their every-day life.

Everyone consider themselves as moral and egalitarian, and find it difficult to believe that they posses biases and may engage in behaviors that are discriminatory.

We expect to see all of you there! We hope that, by addressing this subject, we can create a better work environment for everyone, free of the detrimental effects of microaggressions. By being aware of implicit biases we can minimize the occurrence of such microaggressions, and also stand up for ourselves and others.

Main literature

Racial microaggressions:

– Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life https://world-trust.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/7-Racial-Microagressions-in-Everyday-Life.pdf (It is a long one, but mostly everything is resumed in the first part)

Gender microaggressions in science:

– Speak up about subtle sexism in science http://www.nature.com/news/speak-up-about-subtle-sexism-in-science-1.19829

Gender microaggressions in the workplace:

– Do you see what I see? Perceptions of gender microaggressions in the workplace http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0361684313511420

Suplementary literature, if you want to read a bit more:

Gender microaggressions in science:

– Gender discrimination in physics and astronomy: Graduate student experiences of sexism and gender microagressions https://journals.aps.org/prper/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.12.020119

– A thousand tiny cuts http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/2016/mar/17/a-thousand-tiny-cuts

– One teen’s story of Science Sexism http://blogs.wgbh.org/innovation-hub/2016/4/22/maura-appleberry/

About everybody being biased:

– Surely, you’re not biased http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/indepth/2016/mar/10/surely-youre-not-biased

A bit of hope, to be an ally when you detect microaggressions:

– Allies and Microaggressions https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/04/13/how-be-ally-someone-experiencing-microaggressions-essay#.VyCgpVWZI7U.twitter



Meeting minutes

Gender Perspectives in Science – May 18, 2017 – Microaggressions

-Welcome to everyone


– Scheduled the room for two hours in case the discussion goes over, so folks aren’t rushed to leave.

-Thinking of doing posters for every meeting

– it seems like they work, the organizers would like feedback

-Article appeared yesterday regarding Venture Capitalists in Sweden

– only 13-18% of business owned by women get government VC money

– Study is how VCs talk about male and female entrepreneurs. Clear instances of biases of what happens in discussion groups

-How to organize the discussions?

– better to say as one big group – more votes for this than for small groups

Priming for folks who are here

  • this is a friendly, welcoming and educational environment
    • we’re all here to learn
  • discussion should always be respectful
  • criticisms should always be focused on ideas and not people
    • flip side, criticisms should not be taken personally
  • English is not everyone’s native language. Awkward things might be said, but we should give everyone some grace.

Summary of microaggression literature from Mercè

  • what is a microaggression – there is a handout with definition and good descriptions.
  • Everyone has biases, this needs to be accepted first to be able to address them
  • These microaggressions are really difficult to see. They’re subtle and unconscious. In many cases, people never actually address the microaggression in the environment that they’re in. Folks feel like they will be accused of being over sensitive (because everyone thinks that they’re not biased).
  • Microinsults vs. microinvalidation – these are unconscious.
    • Microassaults are most explicit, microinvalidations are least explicit
  • Not everyone perceives micro-invalidations

Handout in the mailboxes – people felt attacked by the handout

-this is a good start!

– people got the point, but folks felt attacked. This could show that they don’t accept that they have biases at all.

  • The number of people in the meeting might demonstrates that folks think these microaggressions do happen.
  • The first category, microassaults, can absolutely be ‘solved’. We shouldn’t allow this.
  • The other two categories are difficult to get at. But by talking about them, it’s easier to make them conscious and make them easier to ‘see’.
  • Once we become aware of them, they will be easier to perceive, and people might be more likely to not say them.
  • Anecdote: Serving on a grant committee, started the whole week by showing a film about gender biases. The granting committee is at least trying to do something. There are some people aware of this at the highest levels.
  • Do agree that it’s important to raise awareness about microaggressions. But, the advertisement might have been a bit overwhelming, and the emails etc might have been a bit too much.
  • However, the group is growing for each meeting, suggesting that the (ad) strategy is working. Seems to also have a positive effect.
  • The enhanced awareness for the discussion means that when someone doesn’t come, they’re signaling a response. There’s no way for folks to say that they didn’t know about the meetings (as an easy out).
  • The discussions that we’re having here need to be for everyone. They’re not intended to be closed discussions, and folks shouldn’t feel like they need to be here every time. The aim of the advertisements is that everyone knows that the intent is to change the whole environment, not just the environment for the folks who attend the meeting.
  • These microaggressions happen continuously every day to a lot of people. This is an on-going thing. They are pervasive and insidious.
  • Often get mostly women or folks are minorities at meetings. Sorry if folks feel offended after the advertisement, but this is an important meeting for folks to come to
  • Instead of feeling hurt when one has made a mis-step (i.e. when called on a statement that they have made), folks need to apologize and try to learn from it.
  • Need to also acknowledge that this is a systemic problem, and not take it personally when folks are called out when they have made a microaggression.

-What can we do? We all have biases, and we will occasionally make a misstep. What can I do to be better?

– Step one is to be aware of your biases.

– Maybe it’s a false argument to say that we’re already aware of it.

– Knowing about microaggressions makes people feel insecure.

– Sometimes, folks say something, and then realize that what they said is not okay. Hard to know from another person’s response to know if they felt the slight in the same way.

  • Would it help to think about what kind of situations where we are more likely to do these microaggressions than others. This is really common when people are trying to be funny. Might be useful to recognize the situations when we are mostly likely to do this, and then know that I should be careful not to get carried away.
  • Rather than asking victims of microaggression to tell people when they’re offended, it is better to speak up when you witness a microaggression. This takes the onus off folks to speak up for themselves.
  • “I still have hope. We can do better.”
  • Avoidance behavior can happen because of difference in personality types. Folks who are shy might be avoiding this (aggressive), high competition situation, and take themselves out of the environment entirely.
  • When we become aware of microaggression, we will start to perceive them. Before we were living in a happy bubble, but now we can see them. But once we’re aware of it, we start to commit them less, because we know about them.
  • Great if bystanders can tell folks that have been the subject of a microaggression that they have also seen it, and affirm this interaction, and the reaction to it – validation.
  • It’s a mistake to over-react to microaggressions, or assume maliciousness when it’s not intended.
  • Raised Biases might have a biological basis (?) – so are unlikely to go away. But we need to be aware of them.
  • Agree that there could be a biological explanation to stereotype, but disagree that we cannot get rid of this. Humans have gotten rid of a lot of biological urges because of societal norms. Just as stealing is no longer acceptable, similarly, such stereotyping is also possible to get rid of.
  • Trying to be aware of your own biases when evaluating a project/grant etc, and take your time! The first decision that you make could be based on those biases, whereas if you reflect on the decision you need to make.
  • Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand when asked “who here has experienced a microaggression?”
    • Difficult to know the feeling of a microaggression, if they’ve never experienced one.
  • We know that they we’re enhancing such competitive behavior in academia. We’re always being asked to defend ourselves. We are a biased subset in academia, those who are better able to defend themselves are more likely to be allowed to stay.
  • Biology and society shouldn’t be seen as opposing entities.
    • Microaggressions are not an individual problem. They are a collective, societal problem.
  • Maybe the reason that one person who has never felt a microaggression is a white, middle class male is not a statistical fluke. I.e. it is because of the white supremacist, classist patriarchal society.
  • Discussion of privilege. If other people are underestimated, then certain people are overestimated.
  • People might receive microinvalidations from others who are from a similar cultural, gender background.
  • The world is changing. Folks who are older definitely have a different perspective on race and gender than folks do no. Positive, encouraging regression!
  • Women have sexist biases. We have all been affected by the same societal biases.
  • Just because one feels like they haven’t been subjected to micro-aggressions, doesn’t mean that they haven’t. Folks with more privilege, are less likely to be microaggressed than folks who are in multiple, intersectional minorities
  • ‘Biological’ problem, is not a good excuse for anything. Is there really an evolutionary point to being aggressive to minorities? Suggesting that there is a biological basis to this is a weak argument.
    • Not arguing for a biological basis of abusive behavior.
    • These studies are not really well based in science
    • There will be a further discussion of this at some other point in the meetings

Breaking into 4 groups to discuss the questions that have been put forward.

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