Microaggressions–subtle, typically unintentional, yet offensive “put-downs” that occur in everyday conversations and interactions–and developing better awareness in order to avoid making them—are the topics of a keynote address that School of Information Studies (iSchool) faculty member Dr. Renee Franklin Hill is presenting to a library-field conference this week.

Dr. Hill, assistant professor of practice, is one of two keynote speakers for this year’s Conference on Inclusion and Diversity in Library and Information Science (CIDLIS). Her talk is titled, “But I Didn’t Mean It That Way: Identifying, Understanding, and Eliminating Microaggressions in LIS and Beyond.” The event is being held at the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland on Thursday and Friday.

According to Dr. Hill, the noted researcher in the field today, Derald Sue, describes microagressions as “brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults.” Initially coined in the 1970s, the word referenced insults specific to black people and the information they received, but now encompasses all types of verbal and physical actions done to people of marginalized groups, she added.

“The truth is that anybody can experience a microaggression, and there is probably no age range or educational level in society where such remarks don’t occur,” according to the professor. “Most of the time, it’s unintentional. People say things that are insulting because of the connotations that go along with it–for instance, people who are overweight, underweight, of a certain skin color, or whether someone belongs in a particular place. People make comments all the time where they think it’s just a little joke, and they don’t realize it’s offensive because their experiences are so different from others’,” she added.

The Library, The Classroom

Dr. Hill will focus on common types of microaggressions, using audience-participation scenarios to create awareness of the hidden message in language. Specific to the library and information science audience, she will address steps librarians can take “to make sure that you are making your library services interesting and accessible to all groups, not just what we consider the majority of the population.” For library and information science faculty members present, Hill will talk about concepts for creating and designing courses and curriculum “that are inclusive of people from all backgrounds, so no one enters or leaves a class feeling they’re not welcome, or that their experience is very different from majority of people sitting in the classroom.”

At the iSchool, Dr. Hill’s work focuses on examining information needs and information access as they relate to diverse populations, such as members of various racial/ethnic groups and individuals with disabilities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Exceptional Student Education from Florida Atlantic University and a master’s and doctoral degree in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.

Also Presenting

Another iSchool faculty member, Dr. Ruth V. Small, also is presenting at the CIDLIS Conference. Her topic is, “Promoting Inclusive Libraries and Librarians: Examples from Research and Practice.” Dr. Small is Laura J. & L. Douglas Meredith Professor at the iSchool and the founding director of the Center for Digital Literacy at the iSchool. She has been principal investigator or co-principal investigator on 25 grants, including the multi-year Institute of Museum and Library Science-funded Project ENABLE (Expanding Non-discriminatory Access By Librarians Everywhere). That initiative provides free online training to librarians worldwide in the area of library and information services to people with disabilities. Her research focuses on the application of motivation theories and models to information contexts, such as disabilities training, supporting innovative thinking and behavior in youth. Dr. Small has authored more than 100 publications, including seven books.