Profs warn of 'dire consequences of microaggressions' in K-8

Three professors argue that social workers in K-8 schools should do more to protect students from “the dire consequences of microaggressions.”

Suzanne Wintner, Joanna Almeida, and Johnnie Hamilton-Mason, all of whom teach in the School of Social Work at Simmons College, advanced that case in a July 25 article based on surveys of social workers’ attitudes towards microaggressions in elementary schools.

Defining microaggressions as “intentional or unintentional harmful statements” that “may cause more distress than overt expressions of discrimination,” the professors argue that studying microaggressions among kids is especially important because they relate to “overt and direct social aggression” like “bullying,” which has “dire consequences” that reverberate throughout adolescence.

“Almost half of elementary and middle school students have experienced [microaggressions], which is associated with negative emotional and social outcomes for victims and perpetrators,” they claim, noting that “microaggressions [are] direct forms of aggression, teasing and bullying."

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The professors interviewed 10 clinically licensed school social workers about their perceptions of microaggressions among children, several of whom indicated that microaggressions tend to creep up during “unstructured and unsupervised time” and on social media.

“More than one [social worker] noted that students who lash out at their peers will focus on any weak point that they can find,” the professors continue, noting that their subjects recalled observing microaggressions in a variety of forms, including attacks on “race and ethnicity, class, family structure, ability and disability, weight or size, appearance, and religion.”

Pointing out that microaggressions can be committed by teachers as well as students, the social workers suggested that “bias awareness strategies aimed at students and staff” could be a “crucial component of effective microaggression prevention” in schools.

The authors also draw some tentative conclusions of their own, saying their findings “may be a call to action for social workers to help their schools implement microaggression prevention and response, or to incorporate elements that address microaggression into existing school-based prevention of relational aggression, teasing, and bullying.”

Notably, they also assert that “to be fully effective, interventions need to respond to targets and aggressors” [emphasis in original].

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Suzanne Wintner, one of the co-authors of the article, told Campus Reform that she became interested in studying microaggressions after hearing about them through the mainstream media.

“When I searched the scientific literature, I saw that the few studies that had been done were with college students and young adults, and I thought it was important to begin to explore microaggressions among younger populations,” she explained.

During her research, Wintner said she learned that there are numerous consequences of microaggressions for kids, observing that “children who had experienced microaggressions withdraw socially, lose interest in school, become less comfortable in their school settings, and in some cases retaliate in ways that get them into disciplinary trouble at school.”

Considering the lack of attention paid towards microaggressions among kids, Wintner says she is “hoping that K-12 educators read the study, and that it helps to increase awareness of and response to microaggressions [in school settings],” adding that she is also “very much hoping that more research on child microaggressions will follow.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen