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Saturday, September 2, 2017
Profs discover 5 new types of ‘invisibility microaggressions'
The following article
appeared on the Campus Reform site on August 31st
By Toni Airaksinen
In a recent study, two professors discovered a
phenomenon they are calling "invisibility microaggressions," which
occur when there are very few minorities in a given situation, even when nobody
has personally offended anyone else.
this new type of microaggression, they suggest deliberately honoring women of
color with high-profile awards and requiring "multicultural
competency" trainings for university staff.
Two professors recently discovered
that there are five different types of “invisibility microaggressions” women of
color face, according to an article published Monday.
Mena, a Psychology professor at Bucknell University, and Annemarie
Vaccaro, who teaches Higher Education at the University of Rhode Island,
claim they are the first academics to argue
that “invisibility” is a “common form of microaggression” experienced by
professors of color.
“I feel invisible…not always…but as
sort of a day-to-day thing."
“There is a growing body of literature that
suggests invisibility is a common form of exclusion—or microaggression,” Mena
and Vaccaro suggest. “However, no studies have focused deeply on the ways women
faculty and staff experience invisibility microaggressions on college
To remedy a lack of research on the
topic, Vaccaro and Mena interviewed 13 women of color working at “predominantly
white institutions,” the majority of whom were heterosexual and middle-aged.
From their research, they discovered that there are five types of “invisibility
microaggressions,” three of which are “environmental,” while two are
According to their study, which was
published in the NASPA Journal About Women In Higher Education, the
three environmental microaggressions that women of color face relate to their
“invisibility” on campus, in disciplinary/professional settings, and in their
local communities, because they are “among the few, or only” people of color in
microaggressions, on the other hand, involve what they call “professional and
leadership invisibility,” both of which hinder women of color in their
“everyday work roles.”
Of the five, the most common was
“campus invisibility,” which many faculty of color experienced as one of the
few racial minorities on campus.
“I feel invisible…not always…but as
sort of a day-to-day thing,” said Xiomara, one the 18 participants in the
study, adding, “I just feel like I can go days without seeing another person of
Linda, another woman of color, told
researchers that “any meeting I walk into that usually I’m the only person of
color,” noting that that she feels like “people don’t even know we exist most
of the time.”
Unlike more traditional forms of
microaggressions, such as microassaults and macroaggressions, no second-party
is needed for an “invisibility microaggression” to occur. Instead, merely a
lack of other racial minorities in a specific environment (such as a faculty
meeting or in a cafeteria) can be a microaggression under this theory,
according to Mena and Vaccaro.
Meanwhile, the second most common
“invisibility microaggression” is “professional invisibility,” which refers to
a lack of people of color in a faculty member’s respective academic field, and,
as is the case with “campus invisibility,” no actual insult needs to occur for
a “professional invisibility” microaggression to occur.
“During my education I was never in a
class with another person of color, ever. Maybe my last class in graduate
school, I saw another person of color,” recounted Judy, a staffer at a
predominantly white college.
Amy, another participant, noted that
she was “one of ‘only two black women in the class’” when she was pursuing her
Since microaggressions “perpetuate an
oppressive cycle” for faculty of color, the professors conclude by calling upon
colleges to make faculty of color feel less “invisible,” mainly by singling
them out for positive attention.
Ask the professor
First, they ask college
administrators to publicize and “celebrate the accomplishments of women of
color on campus” through “alumni magazines, campus newsletters, and the university
Additionally, they suggest
deliberately choosing women of color for high-profile awards, saying that “Both
campuses and disciplinary/professional associations should be purposeful in
nominating and selecting diverse winners for awards, thereby making sure women
of color are celebrated.”
They also “recommend multicultural
competency training for university employees, especially those in leadership
positions,” declaring that “campus leaders must be especially vigilant in
considering and recommending Women of Color for leadership roles.”
Moreover, they want universities to
create “formal mentoring programs” to provide both role models and support to
women of color, adding that such organizations “must receive institutional
support in the form of dedicated space and budget as well as personnel to
assist with technology, publicity, and recordkeeping.”
Campus Reform reached out to Mena and Vaccaro for comment, but did not receive a
response in time for publication.
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