“This is not — I repeat, not — the way change should come about. Change comes from listening, learning, caring, and conversation.”
–President Wolfe; University of Missouri
Growing up, I was always taught to never let negatively spoken words affect the way I saw the people around me, myself, and the world in general. The timeless saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” easily described the mantra and accepted way of thinking for millennial children all across America. Fast-forward a few years later only to discover that the tables have turned for the worse. Many phrases, ideas, and subjects dealing with issues like race and gender that were once widely accepted in society have begun to cause immense unrest, particularly amongst college students, and they threaten to inflict mental and emotional instability upon an entire generation. These unsettling words and ideas have assumed the infamous identity of microaggressions.
I chose microaggressions as the topic of my college research paper this past semester, and the information that I collected regarding this topic is both immensely fascinating and utterly disturbing. In order to fully understand the complexity of this topic, it is essential to define what exactly determines a microaggression. Derald Sue, a professor of psychology at Columbia University and an expert in all things microaggressions, establishes a clear and concise definition of the infamous word: “Microaggressions are 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.”
In recent years, college students have become very attentive to the presence of these microaggressions on college campuses. In an attempt to appease their student bodies, many college administrations have begun implementing precautions in hopes to ultimately minimize the presence of microaggressions on campus. These precautions include efforts like the establishment of trigger warnings — written notices that professors are required to administer when they feel course material will cause emotional instability. Unfortunately, the efforts of many college administrations have only created more problems. In fact, the submission of college administrations to the needs of their students have further coddled the student bodies into a state of emotional instability.
This protection that college administrations attempt to provide only causes college students to feel even more hypersensitive to microaggressions when they encounter them. Furthermore, college students have gained a false sense of authority when it comes to the decisions and functions of everyday life on campus. There are multiple occasions when college administrations cannot work at the pace college students desire to extinguish microaggressions. Instead of being patient, the students tend to take matters into their own hands. Multiple current events of 2015 properly exemplified this practice. At Columbia University, a student carried her mattress around with her in order to symbolize her anger with how Columbia handled her rape case. At Yale, students petitioned to have John C. Calhoun’s name removed from a university building because he possessed slaves during the Civil War, which today is deemed a microaggression.
Perhaps the most hard-hitting demonstration against microaggressions occurred at the University of Missouri. After the traumatic events of Ferguson, Missouri, took place — regarding the death of Michael Brown, a young African American, at the hands of a Caucasian police officer — the awareness of microaggressions on the Missouri campus inevitably reached an all-time high. The intense circumstances and exceedingly prevalent presence of microaggressions on campus led the Missouri students to react in extremes, such as drawing swastikas on the bathroom walls with feces and participating in hunger strikes. However, the most influential resistance was the Missouri football team’s refusal to play another game until the president of the university and the chancellor resigned for their inability to control the use of racial microaggressions across campus. Eventually, President Wolfe and Chancellor Loftin resigned; however, President Wolfe made sure to express his disappointment in the student body with the quote at the beginning of the article.
Unfortunately, the attributes that President Wolfe references are almost extinct in our society today. Many people believe that millennials tend to take on the role of victim in every situation they find themselves in. This is truly no way to resolve conflict because if everyone plays the role of victim in a situation, conflict will never truly be resolved. College is a place to learn, experience, and practice behaviors before entering the real world. The real world will most definitely not be as forgiving as many college campuses tend to be, which is why we need to get it right in college.
With this in mind, I do not believe that microaggressions should completely be banned from college campuses. I do believe that they should be monitored and restricted; however, we as a generation must learn to cope and handle these situations in a classy and graceful way that will ultimately make the world a better place. We are the generation that has the power to change the world and resolve its conflicts. It would be a shame to see something like microaggressions destroy the drive and motivation of such a powerful group of people. Microaggressions will always lurk in the shadows, causing battles where they see fit. However, I put my faith in the millennial generation to win the war and save the world.