'Diversity educators' fear 'burnout' from 'microaggressions'

A group of professors recently warned college administrators that “diversity educators” risk “burnout and compassion fatigue” from “the emotional weight” of their jobs.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Ryan Miller and six colleagues from the University of North Texas recently interviewed seven diversity educators from a “predominantly white research institution” for a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, reporting that many of the subjects described suffering from “compassion fatigue,” “burnout,” or “racial battle fatigue” from their microaggression prevention efforts.

This burnout is caused by diversity educators’ “consistent exposure to various microaggressions” from unruly students, Miller explains, noting that microaggressions have been conceptualized by some scholars “as forms of assault and torture.”

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According to the article, there is a “gradual wearing down of individuals entrenched in the work of helping others as diversity educators,” especially for microaggression prevention workers.

“Team members described the emotional toll of facilitating diversity education, which sometimes led to fatigue, burnout, and disengagement,” Miller reports, adding that many microaggression educators “found it difficult to separate their identities and experiences from the topics at hand in a facilitation.”

Diversity educators also grappled with feeling “not qualified” and the constant desire to “prove their legitimacy to others,” Miller notes, suggesting that senior administrators could counter such sentiments by paying diversity educators higher salaries and giving them more “recognition.”

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“We recommend that senior institutional leaders publicly and symbolically recognize the work of diversity educators,” Miller argues, adding that “the work of diversity educators should be at the forefront [of strategic priorities] and be rewarded commensurate to this position.”

He also calls for greater institutional recognition of the emotionally taxing aspects of microaggression prevention, saying such work should be categorized as “intramural teaching” rather than service work because “labeled as service, it is so often relegated to the bottom of the work of academicians and does not fully encompass the intense effort and psychological drain of this work.”

Although Miller did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Campus Reform, his professional biography notes that his research agenda focuses on “the conditions for creating inclusive campus cultures in higher education.”

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