MSA takes on offensive comments

The group’s latest campaign aims to inform students about microaggressions’ impacts.

Raj Chaduvula

For Tamira Amin, certain passing remarks serve as reminders of racism and discrimination. 
Amin said she would often hear the phrase, “You talk so white,” when she was growing up. 
She said the microaggression affected her perception of herself and made her think there was a right way for her to speak. 
“Speaking intelligently isn’t necessarily white or black,” Amin said. 
The Minnesota Student Association recently launched a campaign for their latest inclusivity initiative, “Not Just Words,” which aims to educate University of Minnesota students about microaggressions.
Microaggressions are defined as subtle yet offensive remarks or comments — directed at minority groups or persons — that unintentionally reinforce discrimination.
Simran Mishra and Apoorva Malarvannan, MSA at-large representatives, started the program in order to help the campus become more inclusive. 
Malarvannan said the campaign focuses on ethnic, mental illness and gender identity discrimination. The campaign highlights the issue by using anecdotes from students and phrases or comments that affected them.  
Victoria Blakeborough, a junior double majoring in psychology and gender, women and sexuality studies, participated in the campaign, choosing to focus on mental health. 
Blakeborough, president of the University’s chapter of Active Minds, chose the phrase “That’s so crazy.” When used to describe situations as different or uncomfortable, she said, that phrase perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness. 
“It shows a poor understanding of mental health,” Blakeborough said. 
While such statements may not have malicious intent, she said, they leave an imprint when used over and over again. 
“The words we use and the things we say are indicative of a larger system,” Blakeborough said. 
Moin Syed, psychology professor at the University, said the concept of microaggressions has been around for nearly 30 years, and its psychological impact has been studied for the past decade.
Syed said microaggressions have a cumulative impact. Studies on microaggressions reveal their psychological impact often correlates with symptoms of distress or anxiety, he said.
Microaggressions are part of a systemic problem of discrimination rather than isolated incidents, Malarvannan said. 
Tabitha Grier-Reed, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, said actively addressing microaggressions can help lower the stresses they create. She’s researched counter-spaces to help students grapple with the impact.
Mishra and Malarvannan both said they hope the campaign fosters understanding of microaggressions and starts a larger conversation throughout campus. 
“People need to be more cognizant of their rhetoric,” Malarvannan said.