Combating Microaggressions with Microaffirmations

Hosted by: Aaron Schips

Did you know that microaggressions are considered commonplace and routine for women and people of color? If you’re not sure what microaggressions are, or why they’re such a big deal, tune in to this podcast where we’ll be exploring how you can use microaffirmations to combat microaggressions in the classroom. 

download this episode’s infographic

Hi this is Aaron Schips, an Instructional Designer at CETL (C-etl) with another episode of the Cerebro Series.  Today we’ll be exploring how you can use microaffirmations to combat microaggressions in the classroom. Did you know that microaggressions are considered commonplace and routine for women and students of color? In fact 2020, 40% of students surveyed at The University of Connecticut reported racial microaggressions. If you’re not sure what microaggressions are, or why they’re such a big deal, keep listening.  

Sue et al state that microaggressions are brief exchanges that communicate hostile, derogatory, slights on an individual or group (Sue, 2010; Sue et al., 2007). These exchanges can be either intentional, or unintentional. Usually microaggressions happen to folks that may be a different race, gender, or sexual orientation than the majority. For example, take this hypothetical Chinese student, Yuxin. Yuxin is spelled Y-U-X-I-N.  

She is in class ready to volunteer an answer to her professor. Her professor has mispronounced her name before, and she has corrected him. This time when she volunteers, her professor calls on her by saying, “Yucksin, or however you say your name, do you have the answer?” The professor’s inability to remember Yuxin’s correct name pronunciation, even after she has corrected him, is considered a microaggression. Further still, he invalidates her further by implying that her name is too complicated to remember, or not worth it. In the future Yuxin may not have the confidence to volunteer an answer. Her professor may embarrass her yet again by mispronouncing her name.  

Closer to home, the University of Denver has reported students hearing such comments as, “atoms sometimes attract each other, like this male and female here. At the same time, atoms sometimes repel each other like these two males here.” Imagine being a homosexual student and hearing something like this. Not only would it make you feel uncomfortable, but it might also invalidate your own student experience. This is a big concern for student satisfaction, retention, and well-being within the classroom.  

One way educators are trying to combat microaggressions is with microaffirmations. Microaffirmations are small, conscious and unconscious actions you can take that contribute to positive interactions between you and your students. There are three types of microaffirmations you can use: microvalidations, microcompliments, or microsupport.  

Microvalidations are small comments you can make that validate a student’s college experience. Even small active listening practices like making eye contacting and nodding when a student is talking can make a big difference in the support they feel. In one instance, a first generation student was talking to a faculty member about working two jobs to support themself in college. The faculty member replied how they were impressed that the student was able to do this while still excelling with their studies. This small affirmation validated the student’s college experience, and made the extra work they did to succeed worth it.  

Microcompliments are just small compliments you can give to students for everyday activity. Something as innocuous as praising somebody for a job well done on their last assignment, or complimenting them on an answer they gave, can go a long way in crafting a positive classroom experience for a student. For one student, a genuine faculty compliment on their first-generation college student organization shirt reaffirmed their decision to be in college.  

Microsupports occur when students feel like faculty are actively listening to them, or showing how they are making changes in their classroom to accommodate them. For instance, one student reported feeling supported when her professor explained how she was making changes in her class to accommodate first generation students. Another felt supported when her Chemistry professor didn’t require her to buy an expensive graphing calculator or textbook. To this student it made her feel like the playing field was leveled for all students when it came to classroom material costs.  

It’s important to note that with any of these microaffirmations, tone and body language are important. Students could consider any of these examples patronizing, condescending, or offensive if used in the wrong context. Think about the context before speaking, and ensure the affirmation comes off as genuine. Doing this in tandem with any of these microaffirmations will ensure that your students have a positive classroom experience. This in turn will reduce the percentage of students that experience everyday microaggressions in higher education. Microaggressions are a very real issue that many underrepresented students face, and their adverse effects could have an even greater negative impact on first-generation students. Given CU Denver’s sizeable first-generation population, we should be trying strategies like microaffirmations to ensure that all students feel welcomed at the university.   

Better still, using microaffirmations doesn’t cost any money, take up any prep time, or require additional resource allocation. Check out the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning’s website for additional teaching strategies and resources to make your classroom more inclusive.  


Ellis, J. M., Powell, C. S., Demetriou, C. P., Huerta-Bapat, C., & Panter, A. T. (2019). Examining first-generation college student lived experiences with microaggressions and microaffirmations at a predominately White public research university. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 25(2), 266-279. 

Banks, B. M., & Landau, S. E. (2021). Cognitive Effects of Racial Microaggressions Directed at Black College Women. The Journal of Negro Education, 90(1), 84–95.