Bias, Micro-aggressions, and Structural Oppression

What is bias?

Bias is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned such as unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group.

What is a bias-related incident?

Any action committed against a person or group that is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against the person’s or group’s perceived or actual social identity, such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, or religion, etc.

What are some examples of bias-related incidents?

Writing a racial epithet on someone’s dry-erase board, making fun of another person because of their language or accent, or making insulting comments about someone’s traditional dress or geographic origin are examples of a bias-related incidents.

Why are bias-related incidents of concern?

Emerson College is committed to an inclusive living, learning, and work environment for members of our Community. Bias incidents cause pain and hurt for the targeted individuals, harm our entire Community, and undermine the ability of members of our Community to thrive. People who are the target of bias may stop contributing his/her/their unique perspective in the learning or work environment, suffer psychological distress, or even leave the Community. When one person engages in acts of bias, our entire Community suffers the effects.

What are micro-aggressions?

The term “racial micro-aggressions” was first coined by Pierce, Carew, Pierce-Gonzalez, & Willis in 1978. Derald Wing Sue (2007) expounded on this earlier work and defined micro-aggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults to the target person or group,” (“Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life, American Psychologist, May-June 2007, 272).

What is a hate crime?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a hate crime is a “crime of violence, property damage, or threat that is motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation.” Hate crimes involve both a criminal act and an act of bias. However, not all bias incidents are considered hate crimes.

What are some examples of hate crimes?

Painting racial slurs on the side of a campus building, assaulting another person because of their perceived sexual orientation, or throwing a rock through someone’s window while yelling derogatory comments about their religious affiliation are hypothetical examples of a hate crime.

What is the difference between discrimination and bias-related incidents?

Unlawful discrimination refers to specific conduct prohibited by law that unfairly treats people differently because of their characteristic or perceived characteristics that the law deems to be unrelated to merit. An example of unlawful discrimination would be to deny membership into a group because a person is Muslim, to refuse to hire qualified applicants who are women, or to decline to rent to single-sex couples.

Bias is a preconceived negative opinion or attitude about a group of people who possess common physical characteristics or cultural experiences. An example of a bias incident would be writing racist or homophobic graffiti on the dry erase board of a student’s room.

Although bias-related incidents cause harm, they do not always result in treatment that violates nondiscrimination laws or College policies.

What is structural (systemic) oppression?

Structural oppression manifests when the mistreatment of people within a social identity group is supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on people’s membership in a specific social identity group. It refers to the ways in which dominance and supremacy are exercised within institutional structures, policies, and practices in order to maintain hierarchy based on race, class, gender, gender expression, sexuality, and/or other group identities. Structural oppression is often invisible and normalized within institutional settings.

Can individuals who engage in hateful speech be disciplined by the College?

It depends on the nature of the incident. Emerson takes very seriously its responsibility to appropriately balance its core values of protecting individual freedoms (e.g., freedom of speech, artistic expression, freedom of association, academic freedom) and ensuring equal and fair treatment of all. There may sometimes be tension between these two values. Various College offices are responsible for determining whether hateful speech violates the College’s non-discrimination and unlawful harassment policies. In so doing, the College is always mindful that academia is a unique place where the exchange of ideas, robust debate, and artistic expression are critical to our educational mission.

How can I report an experience of identity-based harm?

We, the staff of the Social Justice Center, move in solidarity with those who are impacted by identity-based harm, while also recognizing that the Social Justice Center exists within the context of Emerson, an institution with various systems that are not neutral in their impact. 

We understand the complexities and challenges of what it can mean to share experiences of identity-based harm with a staff member you might not know, as well as what it means to trust in us enough to seek our support. We will do our best to honor your trust and will work to offer you radical care and advocacy, no matter where or when the harm occurred.

If you have experienced identity-based harm and would like to share your experience, you can contact us:

Share Your Experience Anonymously

Phone: 617-824-8528

Email: bias [at]  

Location: Walker Building, 120 Boylston Street, 10th floor, Rooms 1003, 1004, 1005

Hours: Monday–Friday, 8:45 am–5:00 pm