Questioning microaggressions can get you banned from school

Kieran Bhattacharya
Kieran Bhattacharya

Kieran Bhattacharya is a student at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine. On October 25, 2018, he attended a panel discussion on the subject of microaggressions. Dissatisfied with the definition of a microaggression offered by the presenter—Beverly Cowell Adams, an assistant dean—Bhattacharya raised his hand.

Within a few weeks, as a result of the fallout from Bhattacharya’s question about microagressions, the administration had branded him a threat to the university and banned him from campus. He is now suing UVA for violating his First Amendment rights, and a judge recently ruled that his suit should proceed.

Here was what the student said.

“Thank you for your presentation,” said Bhattacharya, according to an audio recording of the event. “I had a few questions, just to clarify your definition of microaggressions. Is it a requirement, to be a victim of microaggression, that you are a member of a marginalized group?”

Adams replied that it wasn’t a requirement.

Bhattacharya suggested that this was contradictory, since a slide in her presentation had defined microaggressions as negative interactions with members of marginalized groups. Adams and Bhattacharya then clashed for a few minutes about how to define the term. It was a polite disagreement. Adams generally maintained that microaggression theory was a broad and important topic and that the slights caused real harm. Bhattacharya expressed a scientific skepticism that a microaggression could be distinguished from an unintentionally rude statement. His doubts were wellfounded given that microaggression theory is not a particularly rigorous concept.

But Nora Kern*, an assistant professor who helped to organize the event, thought Bhattacharya’s questions were a bit too pointed. Immediately following the panel, she filed a “professionalism concern card”—a kind of record of a student’s violations of university policy.

Read the rest at: reason.com


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