​MSU warns against ‘harmful language’ with microaggression boards

Examples of microaggressions, according to MSU, include “your English is really good,” “this building looks ghetto,” and “can I touch your hair?”

Bulletin boards spotted in Michigan State University (MSU) dorms address microaggressions, splitting them up into “microinsults,” “microinvalidations,” and “microassaults.”

Students gave Campus Reform varying perspectives on MSU's treatment of the concept.

At Michigan State University, at least two new microaggression boards discovered in two different student dormitories instruct students on how to take action against “harmful language.”

The boards, placed by MSU Residence Education and Housing Services (REHS), further define three microaggression categories: “microinsult,” “microinvalidation,” and “microassault.” Each can apparently be remedied by the “B.A.R. Method.”

This method, posted on a flier on the bulletin boards spotted by Campus Reform, says to “breathe when you get into stressful situations,” “acknowledge what the other person is saying,” and finally “respond to the other person.” The method will apparently help with conflict resolution in what MSU describes as “hostile situations.”

MSU defines “microassault” as “explicit bias and intended harm at someone,” whereas “microinvalidation” is “implicit bias and unintended harm to someone.” “Microinsult” only differs in it being “unintended subtle harm.”

Overall, the boards define microaggressions as “everyday encounters of subtle discrimination that people of various marginalized groups experience throughout their lives.”

Similar boards, titled “A culture is not a costume,” were placed around MSU dorms during Halloween 2018. These focused on cultural appropriation, featuring a flowchart designed to help one identify if their costume was racist. A depiction of a man in a taco costume with a sombrero was labeled “racist,” whereas one without a sombrero was labeled “not racist.”

[RELATED: MSU FLOWCHART helps students decide if costumes are ‘racist’]

Examples of microaggressions on the new boards include “your English is really good,” “this building looks ghetto,” and “can I touch your hair?”


“Microaggressions are absolutely legitimate,” MSU College Democrats Press Secretary Maysa Sitar told Campus Reform. “It is important students are comfortable and safe.” On the aspect of free speech, Sitar acknowledged the “enforcements are limiting. [The] university obviously can’t punish a student saying ‘that’s so gay.’”

“I think the college has good intentions by posting these, but I think they take it a little too far,” MSU student Austin Merrit told Campus Reform. “I understand not discriminating, but telling me what I can and can’t say on such a minute level is out of line with my right to free speech.”

Another MSU student, Gavyn Webb, shared a slightly different perspective with Campus Reform

“I would agree with the foundation of what these posters,” he said. “I don’t like when people say things that are personally meant to offend someone else, or insult them, even though these are protected by the first amendment. With that being said I think that these posters are also missing an important part...we were all raised with different standards.”

The school did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

MSU held an “Understanding Implicit Bias Certificate Program” in July, where participants “thoroughly examine[d] implicit bias and begin the work of interrupting their own biases as well as those embedded within systems at MSU.” This program was held by the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives and hosted by MSU professor Jessica Garcia

[RELATED: Google’s ‘Bias Busting’ spreads to college campuses]

Campus Reform also found a 2015 article produced by MSU Extension titled “Making microaggressions visible is key to addressing the impacts.” Cited examples of microaggressions include, “saying, ‘I don’t see color,’” “saying ‘colored people’ instead of ‘people of color,’” and “sexist jokes (for example, ditsy blond jokes).”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SergeiKelley