Colleges nationwide are working to educate students and faculty on microaggressions and trigger warnings.
According to Dictionary.com, microaggressions are subtle but offensive comments or actions that are directed at minority groups and either unintentionally or consciously reinforce a stereotype. A microaggression would be when a white person crosses the street a black person approaches because that suggests blacks are seen as threatening.
“I have always been confronted with microaggression ever since I was a child, and it has been because of my complexion,” said Christian Veliz, a social and behavioral science major minoring in psychology, and the president of Adelante, a club that promotes Latino awareness on campus.
Veliz said people would tell him he did not look Latino because of his light skin color.
“People have always been confused when my siblings and I were out in public with only one of my parents. We were too light to be my father’s children, but we did not have the same facial features as my mother,” Veliz said.
In addition to microaggressions, a trigger warning is a stated warning that the content of something like a text may upset or offend people, especially those who have experienced related traumatic events.
A safe place is somewhere that students can go to relax and express how they feel to help recover from any traumatic events or exposure to conflicted ideas. Trigger warnings can be used “prior to a video, program, or as part of a syllabus,” said associate vice president and dean of students, Karen Van Norman. She added that the purpose of trigger warnings is to make students or participants, “aware that some of the material may be upsetting to someone who has experienced a traumatic event that relates to the class or video.”
Van Norman said that the University has many resources available to students who have been affected by a triggering event. She added that these resources include Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) or the Dean of Students Office.
“My experience with Seton Hall faculty is that they are very student-centered and would welcome the opportunity to speak with students about these issues,” Van Norman said.
Seton Hall does not have a definitive policy on trigger warnings, senior associate provost, Dr. Joan Guetti said in an email interview. However, Guetti said that faculty members are free to give trigger warnings to their students.
“As a Catholic institution, we expect faculty and students to be respectful of others when discussing challenging topics such as race, religion or gender,” Guetti said. “We also follow up if there are reports that someone has made inappropriate remarks in class that cannot be addressed through informal mediation.”
Guetti said that a lot of what a good teacher does is to create a well-rounded context for assignments.
“This is provided so students may see the educational value and the need for a discussion even when there is something disturbing about particular material,”
Guetti added that Dr. Mary Balkun, a professor and chair of the English department, has provided trigger warnings on her syllabuses.
Balkun said she sometimes gives a general warning on a syllabus that some content may be “graphic or disturbing,” but she does not issue a warning about specific texts. She does not do this for every syllabus and class she teaches. She has issued warnings for classes such as Women and Literature II, a Core III class on Representations of the Body in Early America and Senior Seminar I on American Gothic literature.
Balkun added that most good teachers prepare students for offensive or possibly traumatic content, whether that be by marking on the syllabus what those readings are or telling their students in advance of assigning the material. This gives students a chance to go through the readings and see if there is anything that bothers them, which also allows students to decide ahead of time whether the course is right for them or not.
“We do have an obligation to prepare our students for the course material whether it’s difficult intellectually, challenging, graphic,” Balkun said. She added that this is habit that good teachers should and are doing.
Data was provided on Seton Hall’s racial and gender diversity via email by Connie Beale, director of the Office of Institutional Research.
The data for 2016 is not yet available as official fall reporting is taken on the census date, which is on or about Oct. 15.
In fall 2015, there were 6,087 undergraduates. Of those students, 13 were American Indian/Alaskan Native, 644 were Asian and 630 were black but not of Hispanic origin. In addition, 1,154 students were Hispanic, 13 were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island and 176 were of two or more races. Furthermore, 3,044 students were white and not of Hispanic origin and 413 students had no available data.
With 3,771 graduate students enrolled in fall 2015, five were American Indian/Alaskan Native and 294 students were Asian. There were also 497 blacks of non-Hispanic origin and 371 students were Hispanic. Also, seven were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island, 43 students are of two or more races and 1,816 were white and not of Hispanic origin. There were 738 students that no data was available for.
Out of the 6,087 undergraduates, 2,668 were male and 3,408 were female while 11 students have no data available. Out of the 3,771 graduates, 1,528 were male and 2,236 were female while seven had no data.
The incoming 2016 freshman class has 45 percent of students who identify themselves from a diverse background (African-American, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian), said Dr. Alyssa McCloud, vice president of Enrollment Management, in an email interview. She added that 50 percent of the incoming class is female and the other half is male.
Multicultural clubs are also reacting to microaggressions on campus.
The president of FLASH (Filipino League At Seton Hall), Calvin Orallo, a junior athletic training major, said he gets jokes about being a different culture and ethnicity than his specific heritage when people try to guess his nationality. He said that ignorance leads to people assuming that Asians are Chinese or Japanese.
Orallo added that the world is ignorant of different cultures and people wrongly group other cultures together.
“Ignorance leads to misconception,” Orallo said.
Orallo said he wishes people would not stereotype other multicultural clubs. He stressed that people do not have to belong to a certain ethnicity to join a specific cultural club. He added that one of his main goals as president of FLASH is to include people of other cultures.
Balkun said that these microaggressions occur when “people aren’t sensitive or aware enough of how something might be taken.”
She said that if students are the victim of a microaggression or see it happening to someone else they should tell a faculty member, even if a professor was the one who made the offensive comment or action.
This can be an educational moment for everyone concerned and if no one speaks up about microaggressions then that person will not know they were being offensive and they will not change their behavior, she said.
As director of the Center for Faculty Development, Balkun plans to run workshops that will help faculty better understand microaggressions, including what they are and how to recognize and avoid them. The workshops will also focus on trigger warnings.
Chinez Madueke, the assistant director for Leadership Development and advisor to the Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC), said in an email interview that MAC “promotes diversity and inclusion” through programs and events.
“I think there are a lot of student organizations where students can feel safe and comfortable to express themselves,” Madueke said. “I think it’s about finding the right fit for you with respect to your interest and the level of engagement you wish to have in an organization.”
Discussing whether multicultural clubs provide a good environment against microaggressions, Chinez said, “In my experience, I have only seen a wide array of opportunities available for students and student leaders eager for new students to join their group.”
“Every Latino that I know, on and off campus, has experienced some sort of microaggression because they have not fit into the stereotype of what a Latino ‘should’ look/act like,” Veliz said. “We are extremely diverse, and even though people want to be able to put us all under one category, they cannot.”
“Concerning the issue of microaggression, I think the best way to solve this issue specifically in the Latino community is to educate people on who Latinos really are, and who we are not,” Veliz said.
Adelante hosted a program this semester named “Y Tu Quien Eres” which translates to “who are you,” and highlighted what it means to be a Latino, Veliz said. He added that students need to be exposed to more programs like this to educate them.
The president of Black Men of Standard, Bryan Louis, a junior biology major, said in an email interview that he has not received any microaggressions while at SHU.
“I have been looked at and avoided sometimes by individuals of other races due to the fact I might look scary or resemble a so called criminal that the news shows every single day,” Louis said. “I am lucky to not have experienced direct microaggressions face to face on this campus, but I do have members that have and when one of us goes through it, we all go through it.”
Louis said students need to be provided with more information.
“I believe this campus needs to have more social awareness events,” he said. “And not ones about little issues, but ones about current events that are actually affecting students at Seton Hall.” He said events about police brutality affecting the black community should be held, especially since brutality is seen frequently in the media.
Louis said that trigger warnings on SHU’s campus are already too good.
“In a way these trigger warnings are not allowing us as a community to come together and speak upon issues that need to be discussed,” Louis said. “Of course nobody wants to hurt anybody’s feelings, but there needs to be some realness when it comes to getting down to the bottom of the issue.”
Samantha Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.