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Suffolk University follows through with mandated microaggression training for faculty

Training handed down after Latina student felt offended by professor

BOSTON – One word. That’s all it took for Suffolk University to institute mandatory microaggression training for its faculty.

The training has been completed, but what remains unclear is whether the triggering event was deemed a microaggression.

Marisa Kelly, acting president of the private university in downtown Boston, mandated the microaggression training after a Latina student, Tiffany Martínez, said she felt “disrespected and invalidated” after a sociology professor questioned her use of the word “hence” in an assignment.

In a late October blog post titled “Academia, Love Me Back,” Martínez said her professor handed back her paper and said in front of her peers that “this is not your language.”

“On the second page the professor circled the word ‘hence’ and wrote in between the typed lines ‘This is not your word,’” Martínez wrote. “The word ‘not’ was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that.”

A few days later, Kelly publicly addressed the incident and said it indicated the university’s initiatives toward inclusion hadn’t gone far enough.

“There is more we can do. The most immediate action we are working to organize is a microaggression training session for each academic department in the University,” she said.

The university’s sociology department also launched an investigation into the incident Martínez alleged in her viral blog post.

Training provided ‘helpful tool’

With the academic year over, the required training has been completed. Spokesman Greg Gatlin told The College Fix that Suffolk’s Center for Teaching and Scholarly Excellence hosted diversity and inclusion training.

“The workshops, which have taken place over the past academic year, have offered strategies for inclusive teaching and have provided follow-up resources for working with diverse students,” said Gatlin. “The workshops were developed to provide a helpful tool for faculty members, particularly given the wide diversity of backgrounds among Suffolk students.”

He added the training was well-received by many faculty members and orientation for new hires will include training on diversity and inclusion.

Gatlin declined to tell The Fix what the mandatory training entailed in terms of specific curricula. Linda Bruenjes, director of the Center for Teaching and Scholarly Excellence, referred The Fix to Gatlin when asked about the training. The center bills itself as providing “resources and tools to further develop teaching knowledge and skills among new and veteran faculty.”

Its webpage includes a section that provides resources on diversity and inclusion. The page includes links on “12 Inclusive Teaching Strategies,” “Important terminology” and “Handling difficult discussions and challenging moments.”

University mum on investigation

What remains unclear about the incident involving Martínez, which was the catalyst for the microaggression training, is whether the unnamed professor received any punishment or whether the incident was even deemed a microaggression.

The Suffolk Journal reported the sociology department launched an investigation into the matter after Martínez complained to James Ptacek, chair of the sociology department. The campus newspaper also reported that two other students said they received similar criticisms from the professor who had offended Martínez.

Meanwhile, Suffok’s president received a letter shortly after the incident with nearly 300 signatures, asking what mechanisms exist for faculty “misconduct.”

The university declined to comment on the investigation, saying the university doesn’t discuss matters involving students or employees. Ptacek did not respond to an email from The Fix. 

MORE: Little evidence microaggressions are even a thing, psych prof says

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About the Author
Nathan Rubbelke served as a staff reporter for The College Fix with a specialty on investigative and enterprise reporting from 2017 to 2018. He has also held editorial positions at The Commercial Review daily newspaper in Portland, Indiana, as well as at The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics and St. Louis Public Radio. Rubbelke graduated from Saint Louis University, where he majored in political science and sociology.