Community Organizations Discuss Avoiding and Responding to Microaggressions at CIS Training
By B. E. St. John, Chief Innovation and Communications Officer, Communities In Schools of Chicago
Communities In Schools of Chicago’s network of community partners provides essential support services to tens of thousands of public-school students each year. Our work with partners involves not only linking their resources to schools and students in need; it also centers on offering these organizations extensive opportunities for professional development to ensure their team members maximize the impact of their work with young people.
Through CIS of Chicago’s NAVIGATE training series, 200 different community organizations will participate in professional development opportunities in the 2022–23 school year. Training topics are responsive to the needs of our community partners, as well as our citywide school network. Topics include classroom management, outcomes-based learning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
This spring, our Community Partnership Team provided its latest NAVIGATE training on DEI. Like other DEI-related trainings CIS has provided in the past, this workshop was meant to complement broader initiatives in place at each partner organization that participated.
Our partners prioritize DEI for many reasons. A consistent theme, though, for their valuing DEI is that they recognize that most Chicago students are from diverse backgrounds, often touching on issues of race, gender, class, and ability/disability status. Many of our students also attend schools in historically marginalized communities.
For even the most grassroots organizations, it’s important to take time to reflect on their work within these diverse contexts, learn and understand the role they can play in affirming students’ identities and cultural backgrounds by avoiding stereotypes, and develop cultural competency.
At this recent training, titled Avoiding and Responding to Microaggressions, participants from 30 different partners dug into the concept of microaggressions. Microaggressions are statements, actions, or incidents regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. While microaggressions are often committed unintentionally, research shows they can have negative impacts on young people. One study, for example, found that instructors who handle microaggressions poorly can ‘assail the personal integrity’ of students of color.
Guest facilitator Dr. Brea Banks, assistant professor in the psychology department at Illinois State University, led participants in discussions and activities designed to help them better understand microaggressions and how educators can unwittingly perpetuate them. Through in-depth discussion, she helped participants practice strategies to identify when microaggressions take place, limit the personal damage caused by them, and avoid replicating the behavior in the future in order to uplift and celebrate students’ personal experiences. She also centered the discussion within the larger framework of understanding issues of equality, equity, and social justice.
Participants found the discussion and strategies useful for their school-based work. “Dr. Banks was fantastic,” said Gwenne Godwin, who is a member of the program staff at a CIS of Chicago dance partner. “It’s a very tough subject, but the reality is that none of us are exempt from experiencing microaggression. The key is how to identify them and to better maneuver the territory. It was one of the best and most informative classes I have been a part of.”