Like many of their Teachers College peers, Counseling Psychology students Sarah Alsaidi, Cassandra Calle, Elizabeth Glaeser and Narolyn Mendez will graduate in late April with doctoral degrees.
They will also leave with a published book — Microintervention Strategies: What You Can Do to Disarm and Dismantle Individual and Systemic Racism and Bias (Wiley 2021) — co-authored with a rock star professor: Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology & Education and recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology, whose work has been cited more than 48,000 times. [Read a story about Sue that appeared in TC Today magazine in 2019.]
Sue is a pioneer in the field of microaggressions, the “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Microintervention Strategies offers tools for educators, parents and professionals to disarm these destructive slights, whether they surface in the workplace, in group situations or in individual interactions. [Read a preview of Microintervention Strategies.]
The authors define microinterventions as “the individual actions that ordinary citizens can take to voice disapproval, educate others and pressure those in authority to make changes.” A microintervention could be something as small as making empathetic eye contact with a Black student when a White professor microaggresses by praising him for “a most articulate and surprisingly insightful explanation.” Or it could be more direct — for example, asking to hear a Latinx colleague’s viewpoint after a White manager has repeatedly ignored and talked over her in a meeting.
The approaches outlined in the book include guidance on helping “the invisible (to) become visible,” the transformation of a slight into a teachable moment, and lasting interventions to discourage future instances of microaggression.
Being motivated to help is simply not enough when well-intentioned individuals lack the necessary strategies and tools required for effective anti-bias measures.
—Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology & Education, from the preface to Microintervention Strategies
“Being motivated to help is simply not enough when well-intentioned individuals lack the necessary strategies and tools required for effective anti-bias measures,” Sue writes in the preface. “As a result, we hope to provide the knowledge, skills and tactics that well-intentioned social justice advocates can use in their continuing efforts to disarm and dismantle racism and bias.”
Above all, the book provides a blueprint for concerned bystanders to intervene — in particular, by engaging in the type of discussions that most people prefer to avoid.
“It is important to acknowledge that someone might say something that someone else finds offensive,” says Mendez. “A microintervention can help distinguish the difference between intent and impact that can be harmful or negative. So, it’s really about taking a step back. One of the things we tried to do with the book is how to approach that conversation.”
Sue leaves no doubt that his four co-authors are full partners in the new book, calling them and other students who have collaborated with him in the past “the inspiration, energy and engine” behind his work. And indeed, the idea for Microintervention Strategies evolved organically.
A microintervention can help distinguish the difference between intent and impact that can be harmful or negative. So, it’s really about taking a step back. One of the things we tried to do with the book is how to approach that conversation.
—TC doctoral student Narolyn Mendez
“A lot of the work that interested me in psychology and mental health drew me to TC’s program because it trains through a multi-cultural lens that takes into account different parts of people’s lives and identities,” says Mendez. “As a woman of color who wants to work with a Latinx population, I know these are things I’ll come across in clinical capacities or maybe in conversations with friends and family that can really impact a person’s mental health.”
“The four of us were in Dr. Sue’s class our first year of graduate school. It was the year Trump was elected and we needed to find a way to put our collective energies into doing something productive when we felt in a real state of despair,” adds Glaeser. “And this is where we ended up.”
The students not only studied and wrote about microintervention over the next four years — they put the research into practice.
Alsaidi applied the strategies in workshops that integrated microaggression into role-playing scenarios. She documented the findings in her dissertation.
Microintervention comes from the idea that remaining silent is complicit. Communicating a stance gives a person the satisfaction of knowing they didn’t remain silent.
—TC doctoral student Sarah Alsaidi
“Microintervention comes from the idea that remaining silent is complicit,” she says. “Communicating a stance gives a person the satisfaction of knowing they didn’t remain silent.”
Glaeser, who has implemented microinterventions tools in her clinical work at a Brooklyn hospital, says she has come to see microinterventions as “a clinical gift to my clients.”
The co-authors envision the strategies in the book being used to address microaggressive behavior in workplaces, institutions and schools for students as young as kindergartners.
“The part of it that is so special is that it can really be adapted to any situation,” says Glaeser. “Microintervention can be used in a one-on-one situation or to bring about systemic change through the same framework.”
Perhaps one of the most powerful statements in Microintervention Strategies is the two-page dedication — a chronological list of names that runs from George Ashburn, a Radical Republican assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan in 1869, to Emmet Till, a 14-year-old boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a White woman, to, in 2020, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, who all died at the hands of the police.
Mendez says that she, Glaeser, Alsaidi and Calle have extended their commitment to those on the list — and many more, unnamed — with a pledge to donate all royalties to a cause that promotes social justice and equity:
“We wanted to use our knowledge, and the privilege of being doctoral students at Teachers College, Columbia, and having Dr. Sue as a resource to do something with the knowledge and the education we were receiving. This is our way of giving something back.”