Student creates database to report profs for microaggressions

A Wellesley College student has created a public database of professors who commit “ableist microaggressions” or fail to “respect” students’ pronoun preferences.

The project, “Wellesley Professors and Student’s Mental Health,” was launched Friday by Wellesley junior Elizabeth Engel, who told Campus Reform she was inspired to create the project after experiencing difficulties with professors herself.

“As a mentally ill student, it's always been kind of frustrating to find out whether a professor is good about dealing with mental illness,” she explained, adding that students had “no way of knowing which professors to avoid” before she created the public directory.

According to Engel, encouraging students to name and shame professors is one way of addressing this and helping students with mental health issues find the best professors for their needs.

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The submission form begins with predictable prompts, such as rating the professor’s handling of their condition on a scale of 1-10 and indicating whether the professor was generally “good” about the specific accommodations the student required, such as extensions on exams and assignments.

It then turns to trendier concerns that students might have, such as whether the professor respected students’ preferred pronouns or ever used “ableist microaggressions.”

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the document explains that “ableist microaggressions” can include “the r-slur, associating mentally ill people with violence,” and asserting that “[insert mental illness here] isn’t a real illness.”

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Since Wellesley is a women’s college, many professors refer to students as women without hesitation, but Engel contends that this automatic assumption is exacerbating the problem of mental illness on campus.

Many of her friends “identify as non-binary,” and because of this, many professors “misgender” them, Engel explained, arguing that the practice creates a “toxic” environment for students and corrupts their learning environment.

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Other types of microaggressions are also problematic, she added, saying, “There are definitely issues regarding professors who perform racial microaggressions, anti-Semitic microaggressions, [and] homophobic microaggressions.”

Because of these microaggressions, Engel said some students may not “feel comfortable” talking to professors about issues they have in class, especially since some students are “more sensitive to slurs than others.”

Engel hopes that her database becomes a resource for students, noting that she struggled to get it up and running before the registration period for next semester’s classes begins.

At press time, students had submitted 17 reports to the database, identifying 17 different professors from a range of disciplines including math, English, and religion.

Failure to respect pronouns and use of “ableist microaggressions” each come up just once, both of them in the same complaint from a student who claims to have been “going through a really severe depressive episode.”

According to the report, the professor in question “was extremely unsympathetic to my struggles,” and “made me feel like a burden for seeking even small accommodations that would’ve made the class much easier for me.”

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While Engel believes that Wellesley does a good job of supporting students in general, she expressed concern over its lack of effort at catering to marginalized students, saying that “when it comes down to concrete specifics, especially for intersectional identities, I haven't really seen anything on the administration's behalf.”

Campus Reform has reached out to Wellesley for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen