The University of California system has become the epicenter for conversations about microaggressions, free speech, and the roles and rights of professors.
According to a recent document distributed during one of UC’s seminars on the topic, “Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
While certain statements such as “I’m not racist. I have several Black friends” or “You’re a girl, you don’t have to be good at math” are relatively uncontroversial as microaggressions, others such as “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “America is a melting pot” are under debate. A Times Op-Ed and Editorial have called additional attention to the matter.
While UC is only one among hundreds of universities having this debate, the fact that Berkeley was at the center of the Free Speech Movement half a century ago has brought the school system into the spotlight now that it must balance the need to promote diversity and equal opportunity with the free speech and intellectual honesty that paved the path for microaggressions to be discussed in this way.
To what extent should professors limit their speech in order to address potential microaggressions? What role does the university have in balancing free speech with protecting against microaggressions?
Derald W. Sue, a professor of counseling psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University, author of “Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual orientation” (Wiley, 2010)