A Guest Lecturer's Disapproval of Microagressions

Reported by Ana Imes

Bradley Campbell, associate professor of sociology at California State University, gave a lecture on Nov. 7 entitled “Dignity, Victimhood, and the Future of the University” at George Fox University (GFU) as part of the William Penn Honors Program lecture series. During his lecture, he warned against the idea of “speech as violence” and requested that we work towards restoring a “dignity culture” in which we are all treated as equal human beings.

Campbell introduced microaggressions, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and “speech as violence” as new concepts that are causing a “victimhood culture” to form, especially on college campuses. Campbell blames university administration for this shift, claiming that “politics at universities are lopsided.” He cited several examples of “hate crime hoaxes” in which members of a disadvantaged group vandalized their own property in an attempt to appear as victims of hate crimes.

Campbell defined microaggressions as “slights or insults that disparage an oppressed group.” He emphasized that because the focus of microaggression complaints are based on perception by the receiver rather than actual intention of the speaker, the complaints have little to no basis.

He named “sensitivity to slight, appeals to third parties, and focus on victimhood” as features of microaggression complaints, openly disapproving of bias reporting systems and microaggression prevention trainings. He went so far as to compare what he calls “social justice culture” to the Salem Witch Trials and the Red Scare.

Although there is truth in the ideas that a mindset of victimhood can be destructive and microaggressions can be unintentional, this doesn’t mean that hurtful comments geared towards disadvantaged groups should or can be ignored.

Campbell repeatedly stated that “words can’t break your bones.” Maybe words can’t physically break bones, but they have historically prevented disadvantaged groups from achieving social and political equality. A culture that accepts insensitive comments towards certain groups of people is ultimately toxic, and this toxicity needs to be addressed.

If microaggressions were punishable by law, I would share much of Campbell’s concern. “Innocent until proven guilty” is an essential component of our justice system, and malicious intent often can’t be proven when it comes to microagressions. But at a university level, if an institution wants to provide a way to address inequality and promote reconciliation through microaggression prevention trainings or bias-reporting systems, that’s both legal and helpful.

I feel safer as a female college student knowing that my fellow students, as well as faculty and staff, took a sexual assault prevention course that outlined not only the importance of consent in every area, but the ways in which insensitive words can harm people. I can only imagine the need for similar trainings or guidelines — as well as a clear system for addressing issues with the administration when microaggressions occur — for those in other disadvantaged groups.

In short, universities should seek to create a culture where insensitive language isn’t accepted, and where people aren’t attacked daily on the basis of identity. We, as individuals, should avoid a mindset of victimhood. But we should also empower ourselves and others to speak up when faced with discrimination, and we should lovingly call people out for unintentional microaggressions.

Jessica DaughertyComment