UNC claims Christmas vacations, golf outings are microaggressions

To help staff members avoid microaggressions, the University of North Carolina advises gender-neutral dress codes and avoiding phrases like “husband/boyfriend.”

The guidelines, which were posted to UNC’s Employee Forum website Thursday, also warn against such potentially offensive behaviors as complimenting a woman’s shoes, asking people to “stand and be recognized,” and even scheduling vacations around religious observances.

The school categorized microaggressions based on “social identity group,” with separate sections for race, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, national origin, and class.

The document asserts, for instance, that “referring to ‘husband/boyfriend’ of women, ‘wife/girlfriend’ of men who are coworkers instead of partner/spouse … sets the expectation that people do not identify as LGBTQ until they say otherwise or disclose their sexual orientation.”

Similarly, saying “I don’t know any LGBTQ people” implies that “you have to openly declare your gender identity and sexual orientation for me to care about LGBTQ issues.”

Moreover, the guide adds that “addressing trans people with incorrect gender pronouns, calling them by former names, inquiring about their ‘real’ identity, asking them to explain their gender identity, and denying or failing to acknowledge their pronouns, name, or identity” suggests to the recipient that “as a trans person, you are inferior to and less authentic than cisgender (non-trans) people.”

Even a simple compliment like “I love your shoes,” at least when addressed to a woman in leadership during a Q&A after a speech, really means “I notice how you look and dress more than I value your intellectual contributions. How you look is really important.”

The post also addresses microaggressions against individuals with physical and mental disabilities, warning against phrases that trivialize such conditions.

“Please stand and be recognized,” the school explains, “assumes that everyone is able in this way and ignores the diversity of ability in the space,” while using expressions such as “I’m totally OCD about my files” and “I get ADHD sometimes” “minimizes the experiences of people who live with mental health issues.”

According to UNC, “having an office dress code that applies to men and women differently assumes that your staff fits into one of two gender categories; can also be a violation of anti-discrimination policies.”

For the same reason, the guide adds, “only having ‘man’/’woman’ or ‘male’/‘female’ as options for gender on forms” constitutes a microaggression because it means that one “must fit in the gender binary and select among these predefined categories.”

Suggesting that the staff play golf at a retreat is also a microaggression, UNC contends, since it “assumes employees have the financial resources/exposure to a fairly expensive and inaccessible sport.”

Race and national origin are apparently fraught topics, as well, leading UNC to recommend that individuals neither ask too many questions about those topics nor remain ignorant about them.

“When I look at you, I don’t see color” is a microaggression, for instance, because it constitutes “minimizing/denying a person of color’s racial/ethnic experiences,” as is asking to touch a black person’s hair, because it implies that they are foreign and exotic.

“How did you get here?” constitutes a national origin microaggression because it acknowledges that some “immigrants get to this country illegally,” while asking “Where are you from?” implies that “you are not American and do not belong to this community.”

Meanwhile, telling a foreign-born person that “you speak English really well!” suggests that “if you are born anywhere ‘foreign,’ you cannot speak English well,” and thus is also a microaggression.

Regarding religion, the guide avers that telling someone that “you don’t look Jewish/Native/Muslim” implies that “there is an expected look/attire and you must fit into that norm.”

UNC also states that academic calendars planned around significant religious holidays “further centers the Christian faith and minimizes non-Christian spiritual rituals and observances.”

In a section suggesting strategies for self-correction, the guide encourages staff members who “tend to say ‘you guys’ in mixed company” to “become more inclusive with your language and social media posts,” as well as to “reflect on ways you can increase your cultural intelligence on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

The list was made by Sharbari Dey, assistant director for education and special initiatives at UNC’s Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, and Kristia Prince, coordinator for leadership development in the school’s Housing and Residential Education department.

For further reading, the post recommends reading 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say by Dr. Maura Cullen to learn more about microaggressions.

UPDATE: Tanya Moore, Director of Campus Communications for UNC, provided the following statement to Campus Reform:

“The blog post you refer to was created by the Employee Forum, which does not speak for the University. The information in the post does not reflect University guidelines or policy. The Employee Forum piece was compiled from research and published scholarly works – which were annotated in the blog post – in response to Forum members’ interest about the topic of microaggressions. The Forum represents a diverse array of constituents on a wide variety of topics and often uses its website to discuss issues of interest to its members. Our employees have the freedom to share their views, which is one of the reasons Carolina has earned the highest “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The Employee Forum is a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill group of 52 staff and non-faculty delegates elected by their peers. The mission of the Employee Forum is to constructively address the concerns of UNC-Chapel Hill employees. Among other things, the Employee Forum seeks out the issues, interests, ideas and participation of employees and develops recommendations and advocates those recommendations to the administration."

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