Speaker: Be inclusive, take everyone as a blank slate


JASPER — If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve made a microaggression at some point in your life.

According to a local speaker, that doesn’t make you an evil or terrible person. But it does mean you have some work to do.

Monday, about 20 members of the Vincennes University Jasper Campus community gathered at a school lecture hall to hear a talk from Catharsis Productions presenter Sharyon Culberson about what microaggressions are, why they are harmful, and how we can avoid using them.

“I would like for them to know, ideally, to take each human being as an entirely blank slate and let them fill themselves in as far as identity,” Culberson said, adding that even though human beings are not perfect, they are integral in creating an inclusive environment.

Culberson defined microaggressions as social exchanges in which a person intentionally or unintentionally says or does something that belittles and alienates a member of a marginalized group.

Some examples she discussed include phrases like:

“Oh, you’re a Jew? I could never tell by looking at you.”

“Look at her outfit. You see how she got this job.”

“So, Pat, I heard you started dating Chris. So which one of you is the man and which one is the woman?”

Other times, Culberson said, microaggressions rely on words like “those people” and “I don’t want to sound racist, but...”

Microagressions can be racist, sexist, homophobic and attack other marginalized groups as well.

“All of us do this, have done it, and probably will continue to do it until we figure out how not to do it,” Culberson said. “I want to make sure that we all understand as we move through this — as we learn and grow — that doesn’t mean that we’re bad people. We’re not wrong, we’re not evil. What we did was make a mistake, and now we’re trying to rectify that.”

After committing a microaggression, Culberson said listening to the person — and not trying to defend why it was OK — is important.

She said to then apologize to the person and thank them for alerting you because it will make you more conscious of your words and actions moving forward.

Steps she recommended to the attendees to help them eliminate microaggressions included consistent awareness and discussions with people outside of friends and family and an openness to change and to listen to other people.

She also preached the importance of kindness and not niceness, the former of which she said is the more active.

“We just have to remember that everybody wants to be heard and understood,” Culberson said during her presentation. “Everyone wants to learn and work in a place that is respectful and positive. And everybody plays a part. We all play a part in creating an inclusive and respectful campus.”

Catharsis Productions is a Chicago-based company that provides creative, dynamic presentations and messaging designed for college and military audiences.

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