Politics & Policy

UC Berkeley Takes on Microaggressions as a ‘Public Health’ Issue

After all, they can kill you.

University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health held a town hall last week examining the harmful effects of microaggressions — because apparently microaggressions now fall into a category that used to be reserved for the likes of diabetes and cancer.

According to a piece in the Daily Californian by Micha Zheng, soon to be a holder of a master’s in public health, Berkeley “convened a town hall meeting where students, staff, faculty and alumni all gathered to discuss issues concerning racism, white privilege and how the lack of diversity was harming students.”

“Many public health undergraduate and graduate students alike brought up their experience with microaggressions, which are a form of unintended discriminatory behavior that still have the same, and sometimes even worse, effect as conscious, intended discrimination,” he writes.

“We needed to act — and act urgently — with respect to the professors who were committing these harmful acts of microaggression toward students.” — Micah Zheng

If you think a meeting of public-health scholars to discuss unintentional mini-insults is a bit of an overreaction, Zheng would likely tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the town hall was not enough, he says — his concern that the school wasn’t taking microaggressions seriously enough had him spending his final days on campus without “complete closure.”

“In the back of my mind, concerns rattle about the many crises and conflicts that have not been resolved,” he writes.

#related#Zheng believes that Berkeley should be doing more to hold “faculty and administration accountable for their actions — especially if these actions included microaggressions.” (Yes, “especially,” because apparently accidentally offending someone is the worst thing someone could do.)

“We needed to act — and act urgently — with respect to the professors who were committing these harmful acts of microaggression toward students,” he says.

Zheng explains that the current policy of having students fill out teacher evaluations on “antiquated paper worksheets” — for which “manual labor is then required to transcribe into typed notes” — is just not getting enough professors in trouble for microaggressions. He suggested that students should instead be “required to fill out both anonymous course and professor evaluations before receiving our final grades each semester.”

But maybe he’s not overreacting after all, and microaggressions really are an issue damaging public health and demanding this kind of attention. After all, it was just a few months ago that Harvard released a study suggesting that microaggressions might actually make you die sooner because they’re cumulatively just too much to deal with. Maybe Berkeley’s just following the science.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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