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Clark University Gives Incoming Freshmen Seminar On Avoiding Micro-Aggressions

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Five years ago, I suffered through the same freshman orientation schools have been giving since the late ’90s: “This is how the computers work, say no to drugs and drinking and find something that interests you so you can get involved in student life early and often.”

Back then, administrators worked to bring together incoming classes of first-year students. Class, gender, and especially racial tensions have increased exponentially in the five years since and now schools feel compelled to emphasize diversity awareness in their incoming classes. At the forefront of the cultural shift is Clark University.

From The New York Times:

Clark, a private liberal arts college that has long prided itself on diversity and inclusion, is far from the only university stepping up discussion of racism and diversity in orientation programs this year

…[O]rientation for new students is changing significantly, with the issue taking on renewed urgency this year as universities increasingly try to address recent racial and ethnic tensions on campuses.

For those of you who are still fuzzy on just what constitutes a “micro-aggression,” they’re subtle, almost unconscious insults that, though committed with no intended malice, could potentially upset someone from a “marginalized class.” If you’re still confused, the New York Times also gives a few tips on how to avoid said micro-aggressions:

It’s unacceptable to use racial slurs in the context of singing (rapping)
Don’t ask an Asian you don’t know for help with your math homework.
Don’t randomly ask a black student if he plays basketball.
Avoid using the phrase “you guys” – it’s not inclusive to women.

They go on to list a few more example of micro-aggressions. Y’know, so you know not to use them. The writer then lists these certain phrases or scenarios that could be considered offensive:

“Of course he’ll get tenure even though he hasn’t published much – he’s black.
“What are you? You’re so interesting looking.” I may have used this as a pickup line in the past.
[To a non-white woman] “I would have never guessed you were a scientist.”
Mistaking a nonwhite faculty member for a service worker.
Clutching one’s bag/wallet when a black or Latino man approaches.
Only including pictures of white, male scientists on the walls of classrooms.
Showing surprise when a “feminine” woman says she’s a lesbian.
“You are a credit to your race.”

If you see a trend, these are all rooted in longstanding stereotypes. While this list is pretty exhaustive, it’s still lacking. It could be expanded to include the following:

Asking a white customer if he would like mayonnaise on his sandwich.
Mentioning the results of a NASCAR or Triple Crown race in the company of white students.
Inviting your white friend to a farmer’s market.

Unfortunately, these suggestions will be omitted. Clark University’s chief diversity officer, Sheree Marlowe, downplays the notion of “reverse racism” by telling the 500+ 18-year-olds in attendance that “racism is a system in which a dominant race benefits from the oppression of others.”

That makes more sense. Now I also understand why the University of Wisconsin is pouring upwards of $200,000 into a pilot program called Our Wisconsin. Feel free to email Jared for more information on this revolutionary program.

[via The New York Times]

Image via YouTube

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Kramer Smash

Unabashed Pitt alum with an affinity for brown girls and Manhattans. Send lovelies to

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