Context: I am an associate professor of mathematics at a small liberal-arts college in the US.
I am teaching multiple sections of a general-education mathematics course this fall, and I have an undergraduate TA who leads optional review sessions for students in the evenings. A student who regularly attends these sessions recently confided in me that the TA has made two statements to them that they perceived as microagressions. (The student is from a minoritized group, but the TA is not. The student did not use the word "microagression", but did use other "Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) terminology" about their status as a minoritized group member.)
I apologized for what the TA said, assured the student that it was not ok that this had happened, and thanked them for being willing to speak to me about it. I also told the student that I would investigate what I could do to prevent future occurrences of this behavior while still protecting their anonymity. The conversation between us went well, and they plan to continue their work in the course and with the TA.
Although I am from the same privileged group as the TA, in my interactions with the TA I have found them to be well-spoken, sensitive, and caring, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that these statements (which the unhappy student repeated to me) were not intentionally microagressive. That said, the TA has no formal training in education, and I could certainly see them making faulty assumptions that would have lead to this situation. In my (once again, privileged) opinion, this problem is not serious enough that the TA should be removed, but I do want to take concrete steps to protect my students from future microagressions. (Not to mention, it would be a learning opportunity for the TA.)
Specifically, I am looking for advice about what to say to my TA. I have a few ideas about where to begin, but I am not an expert on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues, nor do I regularly supervise teaching assistants. Should I simply start a conversation with them about how best to work with the diverse group of students we find in this general-education course?
To be more specific:
- The TA made a comment to the student along the lines of "your English is very good" (the student has lived in the US for years).
- The TA asked if the students laptop was obtained outside the US when they were trying to determine why an online HW problem was not accepting their answer attempts.