iSchool students, faculty, staff take on microaggressions at Diversity Summit

Dozens of iSchool students, faculty and staff members gathered Friday, April 22, for the school’s fifth annual Diversity Summit.

Ralina Joseph, director of the UW Center for Communication, Difference and Equity, led a lively group discussion of microaggressions – brief and commonplace uses of language that tend to belittle minority groups, sometimes unintentionally. For example, an African American person might be told he or she doesn’t “sound black.”

“The difficulty with microaggressions are the double messages,” Joseph said, “which make them difficult to decode.” Being called someone’s “favorite Asian” singles a person out as “other” even if the statement isn’t meant to do so, she said.

Joseph asked iSchoolers to think of ways they could interrupt microaggressions using various techniques, such as inquiring as to why someone would make such a statement or following up later by engaging in conversation.

iSchoolers also brainstormed ways to encourage diversity at the school and make it more a part of the day-to-day interactions among students, staff and faculty.

Dean Harry Bruce spoke about the University of Washington’s Race and Equity Initiative and urged iSchoolers to embrace its goals, even if it causes people to confront some uncomfortable truths.

“You’ve got to be prepared for some really tough conversations – things that make you uneasy,” Bruce said.

He urged the school to be on the leading edge in taking action to promote diversity. He noted that the iSchool is looking to hire two faculty members specializing in indigenous knowledge and that those will be crucial hires in demonstrating the school’s commitment.