Suarez et al Toxic Rain in Class: Classroom Interpersonal Microaggressions

Suarez, C., Casanova, S., Martin, M., Katsiaficas, D., Cuellar, V., Smith, N. A., & Dias, S. I. (2015). Toxic rain in class: Classroom interpersonal microaggressions. Educational Researcher, 44(3), 151-160. Doi://10.3102/0013189X15580314


Summary: This article reported on the data from a larger study examining microaggressions in classrooms on community college campuses. This particular part reported on the findings from 60 classroom observations. They found that instructors were the most frequent offenders and the microaggressions were typically targeted at one student as compared to a group of students. Students who used microaggressions targeted other students and never targeted an instructor. Even though there were a predominance of microaggressions in remedial classrooms where the majority of instructors were white, the study found that instructors could be of any gender, age, and ethnicity and still use microaggressions.

Research Questions:

  1. To what extend do microaggressions (MAs) emerge across campuses and classroom types?
  2. What types of MAs are delivered in diverse community college classrooms?
  3. Who are the perpetrators and who are the victims of MAs?


Data Collection and Analysis:

  • 60 structured classroom observations
  • 9 focus groups
  • Used a protocol called Classroom Interpersonal Microaggressions Protocol to document MAs in “real time”
  • Research team consisting of all female researchers. Some were doctoral students.


Interesting Quotations:

  • “Microaggressions (MAs) are ‘breif and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative . . . slights and insults’ (Sue et al., 2007, p. 17)” (p. 151).
  • “MAs are by their very nature elusive. The sting of the words (or actions) seem trivial to the perpetrator/initiator – who recognizes neither his or her position of priviliege nor the multiple previous incidents that may have been encountered by the victim over the course of a lifetime (Solorzano et al, 2000; Sue, Capodilupo, Nadal, & Torino, 2008). Typically, the perpetrator delivers a comment without forethought and, if questioned, responds that the comment was not ill-intentioned or that the victim was being overly sensitive (Kohli & Solorzano, 2012; Sue et al., 2007; Sue, 1010b, 2010c). The reality of the victim’s experience may be called into question (Sue et al, 2008) without recognition of the cumulative burden and fatigue of ongoing questioning of legitimacy (Smith, Allen & Danley, 2007; Sue, 2010a)” (p. 152).
  • “These findings suggest that MAs disproportionately occurred in remedial courses relative to general education and vocational courses” (p. 156).
  • Four types of MAs: (1) intelligence-related MAs, (2) cultural/racial MAs, (3) gendered MAs, and (4) intersectional MAs.
  • “As educators, we must consider the ‘power of words’ (Minikel-Lacoque, 2013) and how they may fall like toxic rain in our classrooms. MAs by definition are often unintentional but nonetheless create distinct discomfort for their victims. As educators, we must reflect upon our statements, create classroom climates that do not foster MAs, and develop strategies for addressing MAs when they occur in the classroom” (p. 158).



Kohli, R., & Solorzano, D. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names! Racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race, Ethnicity, & Education, 14(4), 441-462. Doi: 10.1080/13613324.2012.6740206


Minikel-Lacocque, M. (2013). Racism, college, and the power of words: Microaggressions reconsidered. American Educational Research Jouranl, 50(3), 432-465. Doi: 10.3102/0002831212468048


Smith, W. A., Allen, W. R., & Danley, L. L. (2007). “Assume the position. . . . You fit the description”: Psychosocial experiences and racial battle fatigue among African American male college studnets. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(4), 551-578. Doi: 10.1177/0002764207307742.


Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college studnets. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1), 60-73. Retrieved from


Sue, D. W. (Ed.). (2010a). Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestations, dynamics, and impacts. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Sue, D. W. (2010b). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Sue, D. W. (2010c). Microaggressions, marginality, and opporession: An introduction. In D. W. Sue (Ed.), Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestations, dynamics and impacts (pp. 3-24). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2008). Racial microaggressions and the power to impose reality. American Psychologist, 63(4), 277-279. Doi: 10.1037/0003066X.63.4.277


Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. Doi://10.1037/0003-066X.62.4..271