Resolving Microaggressions: A New Diversity Training from UT Health San Antonio

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The Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio is launching a new diversity training called Resolving Microaggressions.

This training aims to empower faculty members to recognize and speak out against acts of racism and discrimination.

“The goal of this training is to turn spectators into active peacemakers in tense situations, where someone is being attacked, even subtly on the basis of their gender, race, age, training or socioeconomic status,” wrote Robert Hromas, dean of the Long School of Medicine, in an email to faculty members.

The training is focused on microaggressions. These are typically more subtler forms of racism, within implicit bias, that can be overlooked.

“Microaggressions are the extent to which individuals who are targeted, it could be mannerisms, actions, verbal nonverbal, the degree to which you feel second class or invisible. And so many times these things happen without people even conscientiously being aware that they’ve said something that was offensive, or they’ve done something that was offensive,” said Chiquita Collins, Vice Dean of Inclusion and Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer for Long School of Medicine.

The training is an important step in creating an inclusive and tolerant environment, and due to its unique nature, will likely be replicated in the future.

Creating the Resolving Microaggressions Training

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been core to UT Health San Antonio’s goals for many years.

However, the need for a microaggressions training became evident last year in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020.

“That was a call to arms, a call to action, on ways in which people from all walks of life, all industries, all organizations really wanted a recommitment to diversity and inclusion and equity,” Collins said.

While the idea started in the summer of 2020, the training is being launched in spring 2021 because of the extensive planning required.

For Collins and her team at the university’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity, it was vital to be intentional in making the training concrete and actionable.

“We want to make sure that we invest in actionable initiatives, so people are not just saying, ‘OK, I’ve taken a workshop, I’ve taken the training. And so what do I do with that?’ Is it a checkbox? Is it more symbolic? Or is it really making a difference, changing behavior?” Collins said.

Collins and the dean decided on a model that would train a designated person from each department within the School of Medicine. That person would, in turn, train the faculty, staff, and students within each department.

“When you have individuals who are part of the institution become part of the collective effort, it makes a bigger impact, in my opinion,” Collins said.

With nominations from each department, a diverse group was formed to become the first class of trainers for Resolving Microaggressions. Collins recommended that department chairs who were nominating trainers not just pick someone from a minority group, as the burden should not solely be on people of color to educate others on the effects of racism.

Once the training group was formed, Collins directed a six-week intensive training module to teach trainers how to handle microaggressions and other acts of discrimination in the workplace.

To create the module, Collins drew from her extensive background in racial critical theory, social demography, and social epidemiology. She incorporated key aspects from social psychology and literature into the training.

Now, each of the trainers will teach their departments what they learned.

“The goal of this is to empower people. Whether you have been personally impacted, or you witness others, your colleagues, your peers. What do you do as an upstander? How do you effectively mitigate or intervene? You have to really assess the situation, you can’t always jump in and accuse someone, that will backfire. And so we gave them tools of the trade that have been documented in the scientific literature to be effective ways in which you can intervene,” Collins said.

Unfortunately, implicit bias and discrimination can be common in the workplace and beyond.

Implicit Bias Training

“Implicit bias has a real-world effect on behavior,” according to a Salud America! research review. “It impacts employment, education, healthcare, criminal justice, and more.”

In addition to teaching leaders how to intervene, the Resolving Microaggressions training also teaches people what to do if they are targeted.

“What do you do when you’re the most vulnerable in the hierarchy? Do you say something? Someone who is in a supervisory role should intervene. We want to empower people, give them the skill set so that they know what to do if they’re ever in that situation,” Collins said.

While not all departments have conducted the trainings with faculty and staff yet, Collins is excited that the preliminary data is looking good.

“We have an evaluator who’s been on board since day one. And so we have preliminary results right now. There’s a pattern between before they took the training versus after they took the training. We are evaluating those who have participated in the trainings because it’s important for us to measure efficacy,” Collins said.

What’s Next for Resolving Microaggressions?

As results continue to come in from the Resolving Microaggressions training, Collins and the Office for Inclusion and Diversity can continue assessing how the school is committed to its values.

“We want to make sure that we are an institution who is committed to ensuring that everyone who’s part of the institution feel valued and respected, there is a sense of belongingness,” Collins said.

Hromas emphasized that the training will benefit everyone involved.

“It will make each of us better educators, better investigators, and better health care providers,” Hromas wrote in the email to faculty.

As this training is unique in its interactive aspects, Collins predicts that once more results on the efficacy come out, other medical schools will replicate this training.

She is proud of the innovative work her office has created with the dean.

“We’re changing the landscape in many ways, and to be part of that is fulfilling,” Collins said.

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