In their final semester at Hobart and William Smith, the seven graduating MAT students developed scholarly research projects that shed light on microaggressions and the ways in which they contribute to marginalization.
During the first half of Professor of Education Jamie MaKinster’s experiential learning course, the students explored the context surrounding microaggressions, including what they are and how they manifest in formal and informal settings in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, identity and age. During the second half of the semester, students designed research projects and developed outcomes and recommendations to address their findings and mitigate microaggressions.
Devyn Workman ’15, MAT ’16 and Peter Budmen ’15, MAT ’16 focused on microaggressions in the classroom as related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity; Gabriella Mason ’15, MAT ’16 and Alana Kilcullen ’15, MAT ’16 explored the relationship between microaggressions and gender imbalance in courses; Kendra Napierala ’15, MAT ’16 studied student and faculty perceptions regarding accommodating students with disabilities; and Shannon Savard ’15, MAT ’16 and Ana Schavoir ’15, MAT ’16 examined the ways microaggressions occur in social spaces on campus, specifically in the dining hall.
“If you were to ask anyone on this campus if they value diversity they would say ‘of course,’ but if you were to ask them how they demonstrate that, most wouldn’t be able to respond,” explains Budmen, whose project with Workman found a significant gap between the sense of value of diversity on campus and specific action supporting it.
Through their project — including the “Stop. Think. Rephrase.” social media campaign — Workman says he now feels “able to implement the prevention and intervention strategies I have read about and studied when a microaggression occurs. One of my immediate goals as a teacher who values social justice and inclusivity would be to start using inclusive language everywhere, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
From their interviews with students, Mason and Kilcullen identified five themes regarding gender-imbalanced classrooms, which informed the decision tree and brochure they developed for faculty teaching in gender-imbalanced classrooms.
“The intent of our project was to allow professors access to how students are feeling in their classes in order to promote reflection on teaching practices,” they explain. “We have had time to reflect on our own teaching practices throughout this experience and recognize that it’s important to be conscious of the way we are interacting with our students at all times. We hope to remain aware of the advice from our participants as we pursue professional teaching careers.?”
Napierala set out to explore student and faculty perceptions regarding accommodations for students with disabilities. Having conducted interviews with faculty and students, she found a need for “safe places for the students to express their strengths and struggles as a learner” as well as more professional development opportunities for faculty “to best fit the students’ needs.”
“If we truly value inclusion we will make this place a place where people of all abilities can feel welcomed and supported,” she says. “As an educator I am even more aware that small things that I do to make all my students feel welcome and supported can make a large impact on their lives.”
Exploring the interaction between microaggressions and public campus spaces, Savard and Schavior found an opportunity “to spark a much needed dialogue about the social climate surrounding race and diversity on this campus,” they explain.
In unearthing “some serious and longstanding divisions within the student body,” they note that “having a diverse group of people does not automatically lead to inclusion. Inclusion is an active and intentional process…on personal, institutional and structural levels…It’s going to take active listening, a willingness to admit mistakes and to acknowledge privilege and discrimination, and a dedication to transforming the realities which perpetuate inequality and divide our community.”
With their projects, MaKinster says, the 2016 MAT cohort will “have an impact after they leave, not only raising issues but changing the structural elements that influence these things on campus. And they responded enormously well, developing projects of significant personal interest to them, supporting one another and giving each other feedback to come up with outcomes and materials to contribute to the HWS community in ways that will have a lasting impact.”