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Bystander intervention in the context of microaggressions

sue_frantz
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The September 2021 issue of the APA Monitor featured an article suggesting strategies bystanders can use when they observe the use of microaggressions against others (“How bystanders can shut down microaggressions”). In Intro Psych, we often talk about bystander intervention in the context of witnessing, say, a potential medical emergency, so it is refreshing to think about bystander intervention in terms of something we may more commonly witness.

After covering bystander intervention in your course, consider providing your students with these discussion instructions and questions.

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Read How Bystanders Can Shut Down Microaggressions.

Give an example of a microaggression you witnessed, you experienced, or you heard of happening to a friend or family member. (See this document for some examples of microaggressions.) Briefly explain what made it a microaggression.

As bystanders, we are more likely to intervene if we recognize what we’re seeing as a problem, assume responsibility for doing something to help, have some ideas about what to do to help, and then actually do something. Let’s assume that you recognize a microaggression happening to a friend, and, as an ally, you want to do something. You will need to have some ideas of what to do. What six suggestions does the article suggest for “how to effectively intervene as a bystander.” For each suggestion, describe what a bystander could have done to intervene in the example you gave.

Respond to two classmate's initial posts with at least two of the following types of comments.

  • A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."
  • A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."
  • A connection, e.g., "I have also read that...," "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."
  • A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 

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During this discussion, students may discover that they have engaged in microaggressions and may be struggling with that knowledge. The following may be a helpful additional discussion.

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Most of us do not want to offend anyone else. In reading the examples of microaggressions in the earlier discussion, you may have been surprised to learn that you have said one or more of those things yourself. That does not make you a bad person. It means that you’ve done an excellent job learning from others. But now that you know, it is time to work on reducing those microaggressions.

We are human, though. While we may try very hard, old lessons die hard. We will make mistakes. Imagine that you have uttered a statement that caused a good friend to say, “I’m uncomfortable with what you just said.”

Read You’ve Committed a Microaggression—Now What? Use what you learned in this article to respond to your friend.

Respond to two classmate's initial posts with at least two of the following types of comments.

  • A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."
  • A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."
  • A connection, e.g., "I have also read that...," "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."
  • A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.