What’s a Microaggression? Equity and Inclusion in Student Mental Health

The human toll taken by the “double pandemic” of COVID-19 and racism experienced in daily life has increasingly been acknowledged as an issue that need to be addressed on university campuses. 

It could be the frustration of having to repeatedly answer the question, “No, where are you really from?”

It could be singling out or expecting a student to represent the perspective of others who are the same race, gender, etc., in class discussions or other debates. [See “What’s a Microaggression?” below.] 

Or it could be outright harassment or discrimination on campus – or off. But it’s clear from multiple reports that the climate for students of color – and in recent months, for students from Asian backgrounds – has become increasingly stressful.  

NEOMED is Ohio’s statewide hub for the Ohio Program for Campus Safety & Mental Health (OPCSMH), managed by Jessica Zavala, M.P.A.  In May, NEOMED virtually hosted the program’s fifth biennial conference on the topic “Creating Community Wellness: Equity and Inclusion in Student Mental Health.” 

The conference’s keynote speaker – David Rivera, Ph.D., a senior advisor to The Steve Fund, which supports the mental health and emotional well-being of college students of color – and afternoon plenary speaker Justin Chen, M.D., M.P.H., the medical director of the Outpatient Psychiatry Division at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School whose research topics include cross-cultural psychiatry and racial/ethnic disparities in mental health utilization, discussed topics related to these issues.

Here’s one: What’s a microaggression?

“Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward marginalized people, such as people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, the poor, and people with disabilities. These events can be intentional or unintentional. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with marginalized people.” 

–from “Investing in the Mental Health & Academic Success of Students of Color,” facilitated by David P. Rivera, Ph.D.

Watch Dr. Rivera’s keynote, “Investing in the Mental Health and Academic Success of Students of Color.

Watch Dr. Chen’s plenary session, “Breaking Silences in the Model Minority: Asian American and International Student Mental Health Before and During COVID -19.”

The JED Foundation and The Steve Fund collaborated to develop the Equity in Mental Health Framework, which lists 10 recommendations and strategies for colleges and universities to support the emotional wellbeing and mental health of students of color. Downloads for the Framework and for an Equity in Mental Health Framework Toolkit are available at the Equity in Mental Health website.  

Additional resources:

NEOMED’s Jessica Zavala also recommends the following: 

Coordinating Centers of Excellence Mental Health Resources for (BIPOC) Black, Indigenous People And People of Color 

Boston College Racial Trauma Toolkit

Eastern Michigan Diversity Campus Assessment Climate Toolkit 

About the OPCSMH

The Ohio Program for Campus Safety & Mental Health is a resource center housed at NEOMED promoting suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and stigma reduction activities at college campuses across the state of Ohio. Empowering all higher education students is integral to its mission of developing a comprehensive approach to mental health, recovery, and suicide prevention.

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