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26 Feb, 2024 13:55

Free speech group slams university ‘microaggression’ policies

“Questioning” or “denying” racism is considered an offense at several institutions, activists have claimed
Free speech group slams university ‘microaggression’ policies

A group of free speech activists has accused UK universities of “an overt attack on intellectual freedom,” after it was reported that phrases such as “the most qualified person should get the job” are considered racist “microaggressions” by some institutions.

In a report published last week, the Committee for Academic Freedom (CAF) said that at least five universities “have published guides, training courses, and statements on microaggressions which undermine freedom of expression and academic freedom.”

Imperial College London, for example, considers statements such as “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “men and women have equal opportunities for achievement” to be racist or sexist. To the University of Glasgow, any statements “which assert that race does not play a role in life successes” are classed as microaggressions, while “questioning an individual’s lived experience” is a transgression at the University of Edinburgh.

Imperial College and the University of Glasgow both list “denial” of prejudice as a microaggression. 

“By campaigning against ‘questioning’ and ‘denial’ these universities are advocating an uncritical acceptance of statements in the various, undefined areas that their microaggression guides refer to,” the CAF wrote. “This is an overt attack on intellectual freedom.”

“Microaggression” is a relatively modern buzzword popular on the liberal left. It was defined in 2019 by Harvard psychologist Dr. Derald Sue as “everyday verbal, non-verbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

The term has since spread beyond college campuses and into the corporate world, with employees in media, finance, and commerce often lectured on the topic by so-called ‘Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity’ trainers. The concept of “microaggressions” has also been taught in multiple US government departments under President Joe Biden, including to spies at the National Security Agency (NSA).

In the US and the UK, some universities have gone beyond simply listing examples of microaggressions and advising against their use. Cambridge University launched a website in 2021 allowing students and staff to report each other for such offenses as “backhanded compliments” and “misgendering” transgender people. In 2018, a student at the University of Virginia who questioned a professor’s lecture on microaggressions was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before returning to class.