Microaggressions and Allyship

Microaggressions and Allyship Campaign: #UofTMedCARES

The goal of the U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity's Microaggressions and Allyship Campaign (#UofTMedCARES) is to increase the awareness of microaggressions and their impact, begin discussions around microaggressions and allyship, and to encourage individuals to use their privilege(s) to be allies to others. It includes posters, post cards and social media images.

You can help to challenge microaggressions by sharing campaign materials in your own spaces, events, orientations or on social media. To request digital copies of #UofTMedCARES social media content, posters or postcards, email the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at medicine.oid@utoronto.ca

What are Microaggressions?

Microaggressions are everyday comments or actions that subtly express a stereotype of, or prejudice towards, a marginalized group. Even if the intention was not to cause harm, microaggressions have a huge impact an individual’s wellbeing. 

The term "microaggressions" was coined in 1970 by Dr. Chester Pierce, a Black Harvard professor and psychiatrist. The concept emerged from Dr. Pierce's studies of stereotypical representations of Black people in the media.

It is important to understand microaggressions as one way that systems of oppression (such as racism, transphobia, homophobia, or sexism) are enacted at an interpersonal level. They reflect and reinforce harmful dominant imaginaries about which communities are superior/inferior, normal/abnormal, and desirable/undesirable. Cumulatively, microaggressions contribute to larger systemic inequities that create, foster, and enforce marginalization. 

When a Microaggression Happens, be an Ally that C.A.R.E.S.

You can help create more inclusive spaces in health care, sciences and education by acting as an ally when a microaggression happens. The acronym C.A.R.E.S. provides some steps you can take as an ally when a microaggression occurs:

Acronym GifText version of the C.A.R.E.S. Acronym image: [On a dark blue background with white text] When a microaggression happens, be an ally that C.A.R.E.S.

  • CONSIDER how what one said was harmful
  • Be ACCOUNTABLE for your actions and willing to apologize
  • RETHINK harmful assumptions or stereotypes
  • EMPATHIZE with those on the receiving end of microaggressions
  • SUPPORT by offering resources and asking how you can help

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left hand corner of the image]

Faculty of Medicine learners, staff and faculty can contact the Office of Inclusion and Diversity to request a workshop on microaggressions, allyship and other equity issues. It is also important to engage in allyship at both interpersonal and systemic levels. Learn more about allyship.

This campaign was created in 2020 by Shannon Giannitsopoulou, Program Coordinator, Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and informed by Faculty-wide focus groups of learners, staff and faculty members. The campaign images were designed by Aliyah Mansur (aliyahmansur.com).

 

Campaign Images: Examples of Microaggressions and Ally Responses

blue example

Equitable hiring practises do not mean candidates are chosen just because of their social identity, nor does it mean they are any less qualified. Rethink the assumption that marginalized people owe their accomplishments to diversity initiatives.  Making comments that suggest this harmful myth conveys the message that marginalized groups do not really belong in healthcare education, research or professions.

Text version of the Image: 

[speech bubble of microaggression]: “He is only here because he was a diversity hire”

[speech bubble of response]: “Considering diversity during hiring doesn’t mean that excellent candidates aren’t chosen. He is fully qualified.”

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left hand corner of the image]

yellow example

As an ally, if someone uses  terms such as  “crazy “, “nuts”, or “insane” as slang, ask them to consider how this contributes to the stigmatization of mental illness. You can suggest alternative language to use, such as, “That exam was absurd/awful/difficult/hard/outrageous/ridiculous.”

Text version of the Image: 

[speech bubble of microaggression]: “That exam was crazy!”

[speech bubble of response]: “Consider that the word ‘crazy’ stigmatizes people with mental illness. Can we say it was ‘tough’ instead?

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left h

orange example

Women in healthcare are often underestimated as a result of biases related to stereotypical gender roles. According to a 2019 study, 73% of female medical students experienced microaggressions, and that only included those who were familiar with the concept. (source: https://bit.ly/2DxOw4o) If someone says a microaggression that perpetuates stereotypical gender roles, ask them to consider the impact of their words.

Text version of the Image: 

[speech bubble of microaggression]: “she should choose family medicine instead of surgery so she can focus on having children”

 

[speech bubble of response]:  “consider how making those kinds of assumptions about women can be discouraging”

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left hand corner of the image]

purple example

Suggesting that people with disabilities should overcome barriers by "just trying harder" is an ableist microaggression that situates inaccessibility within a person rather than the environment. The social model of disability teaches us that what is disabling is not an individual's medical condition, but rather the ableist attitudes and structures of society.  Health care education should be accessible for all. As an educator, implement the concept of universal design by creating learning environments and content that can be accessed, understood and used by all, regardless of age, size, ability or disability. Ensure students are aware of the resources that are available to help them succeed.

Text version of the Image:

[speech bubble of microaggression]: “when I told my professor about my learning disability, they said I should just ‘try harder’”

[speech bubble of response]:  “I’m so sorry that happened. Would you like me to share some resources with you?”

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left hand corner of the image]

green example

It may be intended as a ‘compliment’ - but expressing surprise that a Black woman is intelligent or in a position of power is a microaggression, and a form of misogynoir (an intersection of anti-Black racism and misogyny). Making comments such as “Wow you are so articulate!” or “You speak English so well!” to  racialized people subtly suggests that they are assumed to be lesser, and that they don’t belong in healthcare research or education.

Text version of the Image: 

[speech bubble of microaggression]: “One of my physiotherapy patients said that I am ‘pretty smart for a Black woman’’”

[speech bubble of response]: “I’m sorry that happened. You are smart, period!”

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left hand corner of the image]

pink example

Telling an Indigenous person that they don’t ‘“look Indigenous” is a microaggression. It communicates that they aren’t Indigenous ‘enough’, and perpetuates the idea that Indigenous people are a monolith. In Canada, there are over 600 First Nations bands, who speak over 60 distinct languages as reported by First Nations People (Stats Can).

Text version of the Image: 

[speech bubble of microaggression]: “she doesn’t even look Indigenous”

[speech bubble of response]: “There’s no one way to look Indigenous. Indigenous Peoples are not a homogenous group”

[a U of T Faculty of Medicine Office of Inclusion and Diversity logo is at the bottom left hand corner of the image]

Literature on Microaggressions in Health Care Education and Services

Self-Advocacy, Resources and Supports

If you have experienced or witnessed a microaggression, or any form of discrimination or harassment, you are not alone. U of T Faculty of Medicine learners, staff and faculty can contact our office at medicine.oid@utoronto.ca to access guidance and support, learn about related policies, and/or be connected to other resources, including U of T Equity Offices.

If you are the target of a microaggression, there are many ways you may choose to respond. There is no one right way to react. Here are some options:

In the moment:

Afterwards:

  • Reach out to the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at medicine.oid@utoronto.ca or U of T central Equity Offices for support and guidance.
  • Take care of yourself. You might debrief with a friend or access mental wellness resources at U of T or other community organizations.
  • The Faculty of Medicine encourages reporting microaggressions, and forms of discrimination or harassment. You are able to submit a report either anonymously or with your contact information included. The Office of Inclusion and Diversity can help guide you through this process if you do want to report. 

Resources on Various Types of Microaggressions (Focus on Each Form of Oppression)

Saneism and Ableism

Sexism and Misogyny

Anti-Indigeneity

Misgynoir (The Intersection of Anti-Black Racism and Sexism)

The myth of the "diversity hire": stigmitization faced by minoritized staff and students

Racism, Anti-Black Racism

Fatphobia

Anti-Semitism

Islamophobia

Anti-2SLGBTQIAP+ (Including homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, intersexphobia, oppression of asexual people, and more)

Classism