Tips for Grads: How to deal with microaggressions

By Foram Gathia, PhD student

On NPR Life Kit, psychology professor Kevin Nadal defines microaggressions “as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.”

Dealing with microaggressions as a graduate student requires a multifaceted approach. Firstly, it’s essential to educate oneself about the various forms microaggressions can take and their potential impact. This knowledge helps in recognizing these subtle acts of discrimination when they occur. Developing coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness practices or seeking support from peers and mentors, can help manage the emotional toll of experiencing microaggressions.

Assertive communication is another valuable tool. When safe to do so, addressing microaggressions directly with the person involved can be empowering. Utilizing assertive communication techniques allows one to express their feelings and assert boundaries effectively.

Seeking support from trusted individuals or support groups is crucial. Sharing experiences with those who understand can provide validation and guidance. Additionally, documenting incidents of microaggressions, including relevant details, can be useful for reporting or seeking institutional support.

Graduate students should also take advantage of counseling services offered such as individual counseling, Let’s Talk, or support groups. Additionally, you can explore programs through the various identity-based centers on campus. These resources can provide support, advocacy, and guidance on addressing microaggressions and navigating related challenges.

Lastly, knowing one’s rights and understanding institutional policies related to discrimination and harassment is essential. Seeking guidance from university support resources is an option worth considering. You can seek support through Bias Reporting in the Dean of Students Office and/or the Office of Compliance.

Through these strategies, you, as graduate students, can assert yourselves, seek support, and contribute to creating more inclusive and equitable academic environments.

These tips are based on the Inside Higher Ed article “Ensuring Underrepresented Grad Students’ Well-Being.”

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.