Professor Who Popularized Microaggressions Says Universities Have Gone Too Far

'"I was concerned that people who use these examples would take them out of context.'


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Derald Wing Sue is a professor of psychology at Columbia University. He's also an early promoter of the idea of "microaggressions." Lists of potential microaggressions, maintained by universities, used his research as a basis.

But Sue is concerned that these universities have missed the point. It was never about shaming or punishing people, he says. In fact, he doesn't think that people who commit microaggressions are necessarily racist or sexist.

As he told The Chronicle of Higher Education:

He said he's glad colleges have found the research useful, but he is cautious about the institutions that are taking it as an absolute. Mr. Sue said his goal had always been to educate people, not punish or shame them, if they engage in microaggressions.

"I was concerned that people who use these examples would take them out of context and use them as a punitive rather than an exemplary way," Mr. Sue said. …

It's worth remembering, Mr. Sue said, that microaggressions don't always indicate that a person is racist. In fact, he said, it's often the opposite. "People who engage in microaggressions are oftentimes well-intentioned, decent individuals who aren't aware that they are engaging in an offensive way toward someone else," Mr. Sue said.

Keep in mind that universities now maintain "bias response teams" that investigate students and professors suspected of saying the wrong thing. These teams occasionally recommend perpetrators for additional sanctions. But the academic who modernized the idea of microaggressions never imagined they would be weaponized in such a way.

We have hyper-offended students and administrators to thank for that.