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Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Perspectives From Introductory Mathematics Instructors

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 1

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Rebecca Machen University of Colorado Boulder

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Rebecca Machen is currently a Ph.D. student in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in STEM at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is also a full-time staff member in the Student Academic Success Center, a comprehensive academic and social program that serves traditionally underrepresented students in higher education. Her research interests include multicultural communities of practice, the use of predictive analytics for admission and placement into undergraduate STEM majors, and faculty development of inclusive pedagogical approaches.

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Wysheka Austin Clemson University

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Wysheka Austin is a Ph.D. student in the Engineering and Science Education Department at Clemson University. She earned her B.S. in Electrical Engineering at Clemson University and M.S. in Supply Chain Management at Penn State Online World Campus. In addition to her Ph.D. studies, she also is a senior manufacturing leader at General Electric, where she is a 9+ year veteran. Her personal passion for creating a pipeline for young, African American women and minoritized people in STEM in the industry and in her community helps to shape Wysheka's drive for her research. Wysheka's research interest focuses on activation strategies to increase the interest of African Americans in STEM degrees starting with the middle school to high school transition.

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Matthew K. Voigt Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew Voigt (He, Him, His) is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering and Science Education Department at Clemson University. His research interests center around issues of equity, access, and power structures in undergraduate STEM programs, focusing on introductory mathematics courses. He is a proud first-generation college student and queer mathematics educator.

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Imagine the following classroom scenario, "While teaching your class online, you ask students to post questions in the chat feature on Zoom, and the entire class is accidentally sent a chat from a student that says, 'I'm surprised Shawna [a black student] can speak so eloquently, where is she even from?' How do you proceed with the class?" As a reader, take a moment to think about how you would respond. What informs your approach, and what contextual questions would you want to know before determining a response? The classroom scenario presented above was presented to 14 mathematics instructors at the start of a professional learning community (PLC) centered around issues of equity and inclusive teaching. The range of suggested instructional responses, affective experiences (e.g., stress, determination), and guiding orientations on the part of the instructor were so striking that they motivated the basis of our analysis in this manuscript. As such, in this manuscript, we address the following research questions: How do mathematics instructors respond and react when given a potential classroom scenario around racial microaggressions in an online teaching environment? What inferences can be drawn from the types of instructor responses and the messages they convey about students belonging in mathematics classrooms?

We conducted thematic analysis of the interviews to identify instructors' responses and actions to the classroom scenario. The interviews resulted in 196 coded segments ranging from the steps a faculty member would take to respond to the scenario and the breadth of their emotional reactions to the interview scenario. There were four main categories of codes: interview characteristics, interviewees' prior experiences, interviewees' responses, and interviewees' actions. Many of the instructors in the PLC do not seem to have experience with a microaggression around race in their classrooms, based on explicitly saying they had no prior experience (21 codes) and the frequency of responses linked to surprise, shock, or discomfort (18 codes), the large number of long pauses (15 codes), and the number of requests for additional time to respond (10). There were a variety of actions faculty would take to address the microaggression. Ten times, faculty members said they would discuss classroom norms, and nine times, they condemned the comment made in the chat.

In the final stages of the thematic analysis, we identified five archetypes of instructors' responses to the microaggression. We build on counter storytelling and asset-oriented approaches to highlight the five archetypes that describe the interviewees, grouped by commonalities in their responses to the microaggression scenario. The archetypes included: The Action Taker, The Cautionary, The Connector, The Thinker, and The Confidant. We hope this study, our continued interaction with the PLC, and our future interviews with the instructors provide a framework to document elements of the training that have an effect on how STEM educators engage with racial microaggressions, and ultimately, create more inclusive spaces in classes for students of color.

Machen, R., & Austin, W., & Voigt, M. K. (2021, July), Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Perspectives From Introductory Mathematics Instructors Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37676

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