College rolls out colorful approach to 'microaggressions'

The University of Utah unveiled a series of posters on Sept. 4 depicting several individuals from minority groups with “commonly used microaggressions” quoted over each person. The college said the posters are meant to “create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone who comes to campus.”

"Microaggressions are subtle—often unintentional—statements or actions that reveal unconscious biases toward members of marginalized communities," a statement from the university read.

The University of Utah gave examples of "microaggressions," including “I don’t think of you as a person with a disability” and “you speak really good English.” Other “microaggressions” include “you’re pretty for a dark-skin girl,” “you don’t look like a lesbian,” “what are you?” (presumably referring to ethnicity/nationality) and “where are you really from?”

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“I wanted faces to be the first thing people saw,” University of Utah graphic designer Jason Jiang said. “Technology has allowed us to dehumanize people and see them more as objects, so I wanted the imagery to remind us that people have feelings and emotions.” 

Jiang pointed to the small text on the posters, saying it “symbolizes the subtlety of microaggressions.”

"We aim to prepare all of our students for their endeavors after leaving the University of Utah. Salt Lake is changing, the U.S. is changing, and more and more, people are working in a global workforce” University of Utah spokeswoman Annalisa Purser told Campus Reform. “Being aware of ourselves, of other cultures and of different experiences and having the ability to communicate respectfully across difference, will only strengthen our students’ abilities to thrive in their lives after graduation." 

But the university’s new campaign has not impressed everyone.

“It is incredibly insulting that the students of our school who pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition are being talked down to by overpaid administrators in this fashion,” University of Utah student Vincent Wetzel, who happens to fall into some of the “marginalized groups” that the campaign seeks to protect, told Campus Reform. “This safe space mentality undermines the confidence of students by training them to identify with the ways in which they are a victim rather than lauding them for the difficulties that they have risen above.”

[RELATED: Microaggressions can be ‘lethal,’ profs tell Berkeley students]

The school’s Office of Inclusive Excellence will also host workshops to provide students with “basic knowledge about bias and microaggressions along with tools to identify and respond to them," according to a university message board screenshot obtained by Campus Reform.

“The campaign was important to implement on campus,” University of Utah College Democrats director Jacqueline Mumford told Campus Reform. “Microaggressions happen all of the time, even from people with good intentions. We're happy to see a campaign bring attention to the reality of microaggressions, and work to stop them both on campus and in our communities.”

The university has prioritized social justice campaigns around campus since vandals wrote racial slurs on a construction site in 2017, an incident that prompted the creation of the Presidential Anti-Racism Task Force to create a more “proactive approach to address racism, bias and discrimination.”

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