The Importance of Recognizing “M&Ms”

Photo of Michael Miyawaki, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, holding a sign with a microaffirmation (Photo courtesy of Michael Miyawaki).
Emma Shinker, Features Editor

On your way to meals over the past few weeks, you may have noticed the Microaggressions and Microaffirmations (M&M) Project tabling in the student center’s lobby. Equipped with white boards, markers, cameras and a determination to “promote positive interactions,” Michael Miyawaki, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, and student photographers invited students, faculty and staff to reflect upon and share their past experiences. Participants wrote out a microaggression or microaffirmation that they had experienced in their own life and then posed for a photo with their sign. The M&M Project aims to “show the harmful effects of microaggressions and to promote the adoption of microaffirmations,” said photographer Isabel Espinosa ’23. The project accepts all experiences, ranging from microinteractions centered on race and ethnicity to those based on gender, sexuality and/or ability. Microaggressions, in the words of Derald Wing Sue, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, are “Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, [that] communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized membership [of a group].” Examples of microaggressions from a previous iteration of the M&M Project at Hendrix College include comments such as “You’re so articulate for a Black guy” and “You’re bi? So you must really like threesomes, huh?” 

Microaffirmations, on the other hand, are “small gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening,” according to Mary Rowe, adjunct professor of negotiation and conflict management at MIT Sloan School of Management. These gestures may range from something like taking the time to learn to pronounce someone’s name to having female professors for STEM classes—it can be “any sort of remark or gesture that recognizes and validates someone’s identity experiences,” Miyawaki added. 

Miyawaki began the project while working at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. “About 200 students participated in the photo shoots [at Hendrix], sharing their experiences with these microinteractions,” he explained. “Then we utilized those images to develop a website and feature them as part of classroom instruction, leadership development and also training for faculty and staff members.”   

Wooster’s version of the project is similar. “We would like to invite the participants to tell their story,” said photographer Zion Vital ’24,“so as you click on [each photograph] there’s actual context of what’s being said.” The website will likely launch during the spring semester, followed by an awareness campaign. “The idea is that if we see examples of affirming comments or gestures, it might help other people adopt such interactions,” Miyawaki said, referencing microaffirmations in both daily life and classroom instruction. In a similar way, exposure to microaggressions may help members of the community realize the harm that their seemingly innocent comments can cause. 

After the Wooster website’s launch, Miyawaki hopes the project will be used as a tool to teach students in and outside of classrooms about the impact of this messaging on their peers’ sense of belonging. “The ultimate goal of the project is to foster a more welcoming, understanding and caring Wooster community,” he said.

One thought on “The Importance of Recognizing “M&Ms”

  1. Pingback: The Wooster Voice

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