Profs discover 5 new types of 'invisibility microaggressions'

  • In a recent study, two professors discovered a phenomenon they are calling "invisibility microaggressions," which occur when there are very few minorities in a given situation, even when nobody has personally offended anyone else.
  • To combat this new type of microaggression, they suggest deliberately honoring women of color with high-profile awards and requiring "multicultural competency" trainings for university staff.

Two professors recently discovered that there are five different types of “invisibility microaggressions” women of color face, according to an article published Monday.

Jasmine Mena, a Psychology professor at Bucknell University, and Annemarie Vaccaro, who teaches Higher Education at the University of Rhode Island, claim they are the first academics to argue that “invisibility” is a “common form of microaggression” experienced by professors of color.

“I feel invisible…not always…but as sort of a day-to-day thing."   

[RELATED: ‘Meritocracy’ is a microaggression, university guidebook claims]

“There is a growing body of literature that suggests invisibility is a common form of exclusion—or microaggression,” Mena and Vaccaro suggest. “However, no studies have focused deeply on the ways women faculty and staff experience invisibility microaggressions on college campuses"

To remedy a lack of research on the topic, Vaccaro and Mena interviewed 13 women of color working at “predominantly white institutions,” the majority of whom were heterosexual and middle-aged. From their research, they discovered that there are five types of “invisibility microaggressions,” three of which are “environmental,” while two are “interpersonal.”

According to their study, which was published in the NASPA Journal About Women In Higher Education, the three environmental microaggressions that women of color face relate to their “invisibility” on campus, in disciplinary/professional settings, and in their local communities, because they are “among the few, or only” people of color in each context.

Interpersonal invisibility microaggressions, on the other hand, involve what they call “professional and leadership invisibility,” both of which hinder women of color in their “everyday work roles.”

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Of the five, the most common was “campus invisibility,” which many faculty of color experienced as one of the few racial minorities on campus.

“I feel invisible…not always…but as sort of a day-to-day thing,” said Xiomara, one the 18 participants in the study, adding, “I just feel like I can go days without seeing another person of color.”

Linda, another woman of color, told researchers that “any meeting I walk into that usually I’m the only person of color,” noting that that she feels like “people don’t even know we exist most of the time.”

Unlike more traditional forms of microaggressions, such as microassaults and macroaggressions, no second-party is needed for an “invisibility microaggression” to occur. Instead, merely a lack of other racial minorities in a specific environment (such as a faculty meeting or in a cafeteria) can be a microaggression under this theory, according to Mena and Vaccaro.

[RELATED: UWM says ‘politically correct’ is no longer politically correct]

Meanwhile, the second most common “invisibility microaggression” is “professional invisibility,” which refers to a lack of people of color in a faculty member’s respective academic field, and, as is the case with “campus invisibility,” no actual insult needs to occur for a “professional invisibility” microaggression to occur.

“During my education I was never in a class with another person of color, ever. Maybe my last class in graduate school, I saw another person of color,” recounted Judy, a staffer at a predominantly white college.

Amy, another participant, noted that she was “one of ‘only two black women in the class’” when she was pursuing her degree.

[RELATED: ‘Social Justice Committee’ to train faculty on microaggressions]

Since microaggressions “perpetuate an oppressive cycle” for faculty of color, the professors conclude by calling upon colleges to make faculty of color feel less “invisible,” mainly by singling them out for positive attention.

First, they ask college administrators to publicize and “celebrate the accomplishments of women of color on campus” through “alumni magazines, campus newsletters, and the university website.”

Additionally, they suggest deliberately choosing women of color for high-profile awards, saying that “Both campuses and disciplinary/professional associations should be purposeful in nominating and selecting diverse winners for awards, thereby making sure women of color are celebrated.”

They also “recommend multicultural competency training for university employees, especially those in leadership positions,” declaring that “campus leaders must be especially vigilant in considering and recommending Women of Color for leadership roles.”

Moreover, they want universities to create “formal mentoring programs” to provide both role models and support to women of color, adding that such organizations “must receive institutional support in the form of dedicated space and budget as well as personnel to assist with technology, publicity, and recordkeeping.”

Campus Reform reached out to Mena and Vaccaro for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

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Toni Airaksinen
Toni Airaksinen | Columnist at PJ Media

Toni Airaksinen is Columnist at PJ Media and a Consultant at Youth Radio. She was previously a New Jersey Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform with a focus on Title IX, the OCR, and the First Amendment. During college, she also was a columnist for Quillette and The Columbia Spectator. Her exclusives have been featured on FOX News and The Drudge Report. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018.

20 Articles by Toni Airaksinen