Librarian: To fight microaggressions, hug a person of color

Toni Airaksinen
New York Senior Campus Correspondent

  • A University of Massachusetts-Amherst librarian recently urged colleagues at an academic conference to practice "microaffections" when interacting with students or colleagues of color.
  • In addition to hugging them and saying "I love you," the "Microaffections Rubric" suggests complimenting someone's "unique fashion sense," helping them get promoted, or publicly praising something they did.
  • An academic librarian at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst recently encouraged her fellow librarians to fight microaggressions by hugging students or telling them “I love you.”

    According to Isabel Espinal, the school librarian for students majoring in Afro American Studies, these small acts of kindness are called “microaffections,” and can help create a more “empowering” learning experience for students of color.

    "Note someone’s unique fashion sense or new haircut."   

    [RELATED: Engineers baffled by ‘microaggression’ workshop at conference]

    A “Microaffections Rubric” that Espinal created for a presentation at the Dartmouth Library Conference in October recommends that librarians “note someone’s unique fashion sense,” “smile at students,” “hug someone,” say “I love you,” and even “admit when you commit a microaggression and apologize.”

    Librarians can also “publically appreciate something a coworker or student did,” “help a coworker get promoted,” or “invite a colleague out for coffee,” Espinal recommends.

    The rubric specifically notes that one should “say or do these things to students of color” and “colleagues of color,” but the presentation also cautions elsewhere that practicing microaffections isn’t “easy,” calling it a skill that can “take practice” to learn.

    Jim Burklo, a religious life official at the University of Southern California, coined the term microaffection in a 2015 blog post for The Huffington Post, defining it as an “endearing or comforting comment or action directed at others that is often unintentional or unconsciously affirms their worth and dignity.”

    Presenting microaffections as the polar opposite of microaggressions, Burklo argued that “universities and institutions of all kinds have work to prevent microagression and to encourage microaffection.”

    [RELATED: Science conferences need ‘diversity programming,’ prof says]

    Espinal’s “Microaffections Rubric” was discussed as part of a workshop at the Dartmouth Library Conference about how to “proactively improve library experience by focusing on hospitality, microskills, and microaffections,” which also featured UMass-Amherst librarians Tom Paige and David Mac Court.

    Mac Court told Campus Reform in an email that Espinal wrote the section on microaffections independently, but Espinal did not respond to inquires from Campus Reform.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    New York Senior Campus Correspondent
    Toni Airaksinen is a New York Campus Correspondent, where she reports on free speech issues and social justice research. She is a senior at Barnard College, majoring in Urban Studies and Environmental Science. She is also a columnist for PJ Media, and formerly held a post with USA TODAY College, The Columbia Spectator, and Quillette.
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