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equality & diversityStudents

Micro-aggressive behaviour

29 November 2021

Chester Middlebrook Pierce described microaggressions as “subtle, stunning and often automatic non-verbal exchanges which are put-down”. They are forms of everyday oppression that tend to go unseen and unacknowledged. Sometimes they are based on ignorance but sometimes they are based on a desire to harm (Cousins & Diamond, 2021).

We all need to reflect on our behaviour, educate ourselves and work positively to eliminate behaviour that leads to exclusion, undermining and offending others. The initial description was based around racist microaggressions. Similar behaviour has been identified focussed around gender, religion and the Welsh language.

Cardiff University is committed to all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion. As a member of Cardiff University, all staff and students are required to respect each other. Expectations are detailed in the Dignity at Work and Study Policy and the Student Charter.

If you are subjected to micro-aggressive behaviour, we recommend that you:

  1. Seek support: An essential first step is to speak with someone. This will help give you clarity, and start to build confidence to deal with the issue. If you speak to someone, the person should be someone you trust and feel comfortable with, who will actively and patiently listen to you and not rush to judgement. Cardiff University service can help.
  2. Keep a record: A record of incidents can help to debrief and process a situation. It is also helpful if behaviour becomes a pattern and will need further action.
  3. Challenge behaviour (if possible and safe to do so): It really depends on your sense of safety and the power dynamic in the environment where this occurs. A calm and non-confrontational approach can work well. This gives the other person a chance to apologise, reflect and learn. Focus on the behaviour rather than the person and use ‘I…’ rather than ‘you…’ statements. For example, saying something like ‘When you said… I felt…’ rather than ‘you’re a racist’ or ‘you’re a bully’ which may make them feel immediately defensive, close down the conversation and escalate conflict.
  4. Report behaviour and complain: The School of Medicine has various mechanism for reporting. Cardiff University has a Disclosure Response Tool that is available through the Internet. This allows anonymous and third party reporting too.

If you witness micro-aggressive behaviour, our suggestion is that you consider the ABC approach

  • Assess for safety: if you see someone in trouble, ask yourself if you can help safely in any way.
  • Be in a group: it is safer to call out behaviour or intervene in a group, and where this is not possible, report the behaviour to others who can act.
  • Care for the person who may need help, and ask them if they are okay.

If your behaviour is called to account, it is likely that you have been provided with a very good learning opportunity. We recommend that you:

  • Apologise unreservedly.
  • Don’t justify your behaviour
  • Reflect on why your behaviour was misinterpreted
  • Identify and use learning resources to prevent this from occurring again

Some more resources:

What exactly is a microaggression?

Making Sense of Microaggressions” by Susan Cousins & Barry Diamond

An interview about the book

Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life

Microaggressions: More Than Just Race

Respect my ethnic name:

Where are you from?

Read the Cardiff University Student Charter

British Medical Association Charter for the Prevention of Racial Harassment

What’s the public sector equality duty?

Some of the material on this page is adapted from the BMA Charter for the Prevention of Racial Harassment.