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Strategies for Microresistances & Ally Development

Friday, October 18, 2019  
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 By: Pamela Roy, Ph.D., Manager of Learning & Assessment, Diversity Abroad

Why do microresistances in the academic workplace matter? In what ways can we support faculty, staff, and administrators facing microaggressions? How can you contribute your leadership to eliminating microaggressions and mitigating their effects at your college campus (Berk, 2007)? It begins with understanding terminology and equipping yourself with the necessary tools so that when you’re faced with a potential microaggression, you’re able to act and not react. Ultimately, learning how to be an ally to colleagues who face microaggressions can create an environment for everyone to thrive and succeed. 

What are microaggressions?

Scholars define microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative . . . slights and insults” (Sue, Derald Wing, et al., "Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life," American Psychologist 62.4 [2007]: 271-286).

What are microresistances?

Microresistances are “incremental daily efforts to challenge white privilege” as well as other kinds of privilege based on gender, sexuality, class, etc. They help targeted people “cope with microaggressions” (Irey, Sayumi, "How Asian American Women Perceive and Move toward Leadership Roles in Community Colleges: A Study of Insider Counter Narratives," PhD Diss., University of Washington, 2013, p. 36).


How Can I Be(Come) an Ally through Microresistances?

  1. Increase your social resources by practicing gratitude (Wood,, 2008) and by giving microaffirmations, i.e., tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening (Scully & Rowe, 2009).

  2. Remind yourself what you value and find comfort and strength in your ability to act (see Claude Steele’s (2011) Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, New York: Norton).

  3. Speak up when we see or hear a microaggression and use the Open The Front Door communication strategy to make transparent the nature and effects of microaggressions (as cited in Ganote, Cheung, & Souza, 2015):

    Observe: Concrete, factual, and observable (not evaluative)
    Think: Thoughts based on observation (yours and/or theirs)
    Feel: Emotions- “I feel (emotion).”
    Desire: Specific request or inquiries about desired outcome

    Let’s operationalize this strategy in the workplace with an example. You have witnessed a persistent microaggression from one particular colleague at a small group staff meeting. You make the brave choice to speak up, and say, “Let’s pause for a moment. I noticed (Observe) some raised eyebrows and other nonverbals that make me think people might be reacting strongly to something that was said. I think (Think) we need to explore this because I feel uncomfortable (Feeling) moving forward with the discussion. Following our groundrules, I am hoping someone can share (Desire) what they are thinking or feeling right now so we can have a productive conversation about this (state microaggression).“ See also Kathy Obear, long-time advocate and practitioner of social justice education, techniques on “How to Facilitate Triggering Situations” using the AIR SPACE method! 

  4. Work behind the scenes on behalf of your colleagues and support their efforts of microresistances and self-efficacy (Miller & Rollnick, 2013).

  5. Practice self-care (see


Berk, R.A. (2017). Why do microaggressions matter? Journal of Faculty Development, 31(1), 63–73. Retrieved from:

Ganote, C., Cheung, F., & Souza, T. (2015). Don’t Remain Silent!: Strategies for Supporting Yourself and Your Colleagues via Microresistances and Ally Development. In Roy, P., Harrell, A., Milano, J., & Bernhagen, L. (Eds). POD Diversity Committee White Paper at the 40th Annual POD Conference (pp. 3-4). San Francisco, CA.

Miller, W.R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Scully, M. & Rowe, M. (2009, July). Bystander Training within Organizations. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association 2 (1), 89-95.

Wood, A.M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P.A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The Role of Gratitude in the Development of Social Support, Stress, and Depression. Journal of Research in Personality 42 (4), 854-871.