Avoiding Microaggressions in Classrooms and Online

Avoiding Microaggressions

Microaggressions are a form of discrimination directed towards anyone, specifically with minority groups involving race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. They can occur in both online and offline environments, such as classrooms and workplaces. Microaggressions are often subtle and unintentional, but they can profoundly affect the person who experiences them.

Avoiding Microaggressions in Classrooms and Online

In any classroom setting – online or in-person – it is essential for educators to be aware of the potential for microaggressions. These are words, phrases, or actions that may seem harmless but have a negative impact on marginalized groups of people.

For example, calling someone “overly sensitive” when they object to a racist remark is a microaggression. This guide will discuss what microaggressions are, how they can affect students, and ways to avoid them in any educator’s teaching practice.

Who is impacted by microaggressions?

Studies show that microaggressions disproportionately impact people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and people with disabilities. It is likely because these groups are already marginalized and face discrimination regularly.

Impact of microaggressions in classrooms

Microaggressions are seemingly small acts of rudeness or insensitivity, but they can significantly impact a person’s life. These everyday slights can add up over time and make someone feel unwelcome, excluded, or even unsafe. Some of the common effects of microaggressions can:

Lead to feelings of isolation

Research has shown that microaggressions can have a cumulative effect on marginalized groups of people’s mental and emotional health. Over time, the constant experience of microaggressions can lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Undermine your credibility as an educator

When microaggressions occur in classrooms, online or in-person, they can undermine your credibility as an educator. If students perceive you as someone who is not respectful of their identities, it will be difficult for them to trust you or feel comfortable learning from you.

Create a hostile learning environment

Microaggressions can also create a hostile learning environment for everyone involved. When students don’t feel safe respected in their classroom, they are less likely to be engaged in the learning process. So, how can we recognize microaggressions when they occur and what do we do about them?

How to avoid microaggressions in the classroom?

Despite our best intentions, we all tend to fall back on learned assumptions and prejudices, even when interacting with students in the classroom. These can manifest as microaggressions, which are small but hurtful actions or words that unintentionally reinforce negative stereotypes.

When left unchecked, microaggressions can create a hostile environment that alienates and silences members of marginalized groups. So what can educators do to avoid committing microaggressions? Here are a few ways that educators can avoid microaggressions in their classroom setting:

Be mindful of your words and actions

Pay attention to the things you say and do, and make sure they are not harmful or offensive to any marginalized groups of people.

Check your privilege

Educators should also check their privilege. Try to understand how your personal experiences may have led you to say or do something harmful to someone else inadvertently.

Use caution when sharing personal stories

When conveying stories, be mindful that not everyone in your class will share your experiences. Make sure to check in with your students to see if they are comfortable hearing personal stories before sharing them.

Be aware of environmental microaggressions

Educators can take steps to be aware of the subtle ways in which racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry can manifest in their classrooms. For example, avoid making assumptions about students’ abilities or interests based on their appearance or cultural background.

In addition, educators can create a classroom climate that is welcoming and safe for all students by using inclusive language and engaging in thoughtful conversations about race and ethnicity.

Create an inclusive environment

Ultimately, educators should create an inclusive environment in their classrooms where all students feel safe and respected. This can be done by using diverse examples in lectures, enforcing anti-discrimination policies, and being aware of personal biases.

Common Types of Microaggressions

Verbal microaggressions

Verbal microaggressions are comments or statements that negatively target a specific group of people—for example, making jokes about someone’s race or ethnicity.

Nonverbal/Behavioral microaggressions

They involve making assumptions about someone’s abilities or intelligence based on their appearance or ethnicity. For example, calling an African American student “articulate” is a microaggression. It implies that African American people are not typically intelligent or well-spoken.

Environmental microaggressions

Environmental microaggressions are the everyday slights and insults that people in marginalized groups experience in their physical surroundings or refer to how marginalized groups are excluded from or not represented in the environment.

For example, a person might walk into a classroom and see that all of the desks are arranged in a way that makes it difficult for someone who is wheelchair-bound to get around or having only white male authors on a reading list for an English class. It means that only white male voices are valid or worth reading. These would be examples of environmental microaggressions.

Common Forms of Microaggressions

Microaggressions are a form of discrimination that can be subtle and often unintentional. These acts can be characterized by remarks or behaviors that express negative attitudes towards marginalized groups of people.

Microaggressions can occur in any setting, but they often manifest in educational institutions. It is essential to understand the different forms of microaggressions to create an inclusive learning environment.

  • Microassault: Is a verbal or nonverbal attack meant to injure the targeted victim by name-calling, avoidant conduct, or intentional discriminatory acts.

Example: A White professor tells a Black student that he is not surprised that she did not do well on the exam because “Black people are not good at math.”

  • Microinsult: Communication that is harsh and insensitive, as well as insulting to a person’s heritage or identity. Microinsults are often delivered by tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and seemingly innocuous words that conceal humiliating connotations.

Example:  A White person asks a Latino colleague where he is from, and when the colleague responds “Los Angeles,” the White person says, “No, I mean originally.”

  • Microinvalidation: People’s subtle but constant messages imply that a person’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences are invalid and irrelevant. These signals can come from a variety of sources, including family members, friends, instructors, doctors, and employers.

Example: A White doctor tells a Black patient that her pain is all in her head.

Does Training Help in Addressing Microaggressions?

Microaggressions are commonplace in our society. They can be directed towards anyone for any reason. And they can often be challenging to spot and even harder to address. That’s why teachers need to participate in training and research for relevant cases available to help them identify and address microaggressions appropriately.

How To Spot Microaggressions When They Occur?

One way to become more aware of microaggressions is to think about the times when you have felt devalued, invisible, or disrespected. When you reflect on these experiences, what were the circumstances? What did the other person say or do? How did it make you feel?

By understanding what has caused you pain in the past, you can be more attuned to spotting microaggressions in the future. Another helpful step is to educate yourself about common examples of microaggressions. It can help you recognize them even when they are not directed at you.

Once you can identify microaggressions, it is crucial to act. That means speaking up in the moment or responding to the person who commented. It can also mean reaching out to someone else for support or talking to a supervisor about the situation.

No matter what you decide to do, it is important to remember that microaggressions are never okay. They can cause lasting damage and should not be tolerated in any setting.

How to respond to Microaggressions

Here are some of the best practices for addressing and preventing microaggressions:

Raising awareness about microaggressions among students and faculty

Many people are not aware of what microaggressions are and how they can impact people’s lives. By raising awareness, we can help create a more inclusive learning environment for all students.

Creating and enforcing classroom policies that prohibit any form of discrimination or harassment

These policies will help to send the message that discriminatory behaviors will not be tolerated in the classroom.

Establishing and reinforcing norms of respect and inclusion

Teaching students about respect for others and providing examples of inclusive behaviors can help to create a climate where everyone feels welcome and safe.

Training faculty on how to identify and respond to microaggressions

It is important for faculty members to be able to recognize microaggressions when they occur so that they can address them immediately.

Creating opportunities for dialogue and reflection

Discussing microaggressions in the classroom can help to promote understanding and awareness of these behaviors.

Best practices for addressing microaggressions in online communities

Developing community guidelines that prohibit discriminatory behavior

Just as we should have classroom policies against discrimination, we should also have community guidelines that prohibit discriminatory behavior online.

Fostering a culture of respect and inclusion

By creating a space where everyone is respected, we can help to prevent microaggressions from happening.

Educating members about what microaggressions are and how they can impact people’s lives

Increasing awareness about microaggressions can help to create a more inclusive environment online.

Providing opportunities for dialogue and reflection

Online communities can also benefit from discussions about microaggressions, which can help to promote understanding and awareness of these behaviors

Implementing the aforementioned best practices can create more inclusive learning environments for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. It is important to remember that every person deserves to feel safe and welcome in their learning environment.

Examples Of Microaggressions Encounter In Classrooms And Online Communities

Microaggressions can be subtle or overt, but they all reinforce the idea that certain groups of people are lesser than others. In classrooms, microaggressions can create an unwelcoming and hostile environment for students who already feel like they don’t belong.

Online microaggressions can make it difficult for members of marginalized groups to participate in discussions and feel like they are part of the community.

Here are a few examples of the countless microaggressions that students or individuals of marginalized groups face in school or online on a daily basis.

  • Telling an Asian American student that they are “smart for a yellow person.”
  • Asking a Latino student where they are from, and then not believing them when they say they are from the United States
  • Calling someone overweight or obese “lazy” or “gross”
  • Questioning a Muslim student about their religion or assuming that all Muslims support terrorism
  • Telling an indigenous person that they are “lucky” to have been born in the United States
  • Assuming that all disabled people are “helpless” or “incompetent”
  • Saying that gay people are “confused” or “going through a phase”

Why Should We Prevent Microaggressions in Classrooms And Online Communities?

Microaggressions can significantly impact people’s psychological well-being and academic success. They can make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, which leads to them withdrawing from the classroom or community altogether. This is especially harmful to marginalized groups who already face significant barriers to success.

We should all be aware of the dangers of microaggressions and take steps to avoid them in our classrooms and online communities.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we all have a responsibility to create an inclusive learning environment for everyone, and that starts with being aware of our words and actions. Let’s work together to ensure everyone feels safe, respected, and welcomed in our classrooms and online spaces.

Additional Resources:


An in-depth study on microaggressions from the Association for Psychological Science.  It includes definitions, types, history, and other relevant details about microaggressions.

Microaggression: More Than Just Race

An overview of microaggressions not just targeting races but also other marginalized groups


A highlight on the different types and forms of microaggressions and their corresponding examples

Disarming Racial Microaggressions

A study conducted by the American Psychological Association about the harmful impact of microaggressions, how to respond, and take necessary actions

Article: “How Racism And Microaggressions Lead To Worse Health” 

This article tackles how discrimination affects the health and well-being of the victims in general, whether from racism or microaggressions.

Microaggressions in Classroom

In this article, the University of Denver Center for Multicultural Excellence expounded on the definition, types, examples, and responses to microaggressions in the classroom.

Challenging Bias and Creating Inclusive Classrooms

A book about avoiding microaggressions by challenging biases and creating an inclusive classroom setting.

Creating a Positive Classroom Climate for Diversity

A book that discusses how an unbiased classroom environment affects positive learning among students. It also provided relevant information on how educators establish an inclusive and diverse classroom climate.