Ball researches microaggressions in schools, human service agencies

Published October 6, 2023


Annahita Ball

Annahita Ball.

Annahita Ball, PhD, associate professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, has co-authored a pair of studies discussing how people of color experience and are negatively affected by microaggressions in schools and human service agencies. 

In one of the papers, Ball and her co-authors define microaggressions as “subtle acts of racism” often committed by both strangers and well-intentioned friends, neighbors and colleagues. “Although harmful, microaggressions are so common that their use often goes unnoticed by the offenders and bystanders,” the authors note.

Read more about each study below.

“Did I Hear That Right?”: A CRT Analysis of Racial Microaggressions in K-12 Schools

The first paper, examining microaggressions in U.S. public schools, is available online ahead of publication in Affilia.

Ashley Daftary, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, led the study, with co-authors Debora Ortega, PhD, professor at the University of Denver; Ceema Samimi, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota; and Ball from the UB School of Social Work.


Microaggressions are well-documented in education literature, yet they are typically explored on the interpersonal level and less often contextualized within a broader educational context. In this study, we used a critical qualitative approach, pairing a Critical Race Theory framework with a feminist critique, to explore K-12 faculty and staff perceptions of racial microaggressions in U.S. public schools. Twenty-five faculty and staff with anti-oppressive orientations shared their perceptions of pathologizing cultural values or communication styles, a specific type of microaggression. A flexible coding approach, including three coding cycles, was used to analyze the data. Participant narratives indicated how Black, Indigenous and Latinx students, families, faculty and staff are regularly pathologized in the K-12 education setting. Findings highlight how microaggressions are a form of institutionalized racism that negatively impacts the educational environment, thus norming and reenforcing the dehumanization of people of color. Implications for future research and social work practice are discussed.

“If Another Person Says, ‘You’re So Articulate,’ So Help Me”: Microaggressions Experienced By Employees of Human Service Agencies

UB School of Social Work alumna Berg K. Miller, PhD ’20, led the study exploring microaggressions in human service agencies, with Ball as co-author. Miller is now an assistant professor at Buffalo State University.

The paper was published in the latest issue of Advances in Social Work.


Few studies have examined the nature of microaggressions experienced by employees of human service agencies. This exploratory study identified the types of microaggressions that women and non-binary people of color experience within their agency settings. Narrative data were collected using a web survey. The survey consisted of two instruments, both developed by the researcher: a non-categorical demographic questionnaire and a survey that asked participants about their experiences of four types of workplace microaggressions. The sample consisted of 52 self-identified women and non-binary people of color employed by nonprofit agencies or governmental departments providing human services in the United States. Data were analyzed by applying interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) and a constant comparative approach, generating three overarching themes: misperceptions of identity or circumstances, navigating racial stereotypes and racialized objectification.

Findings stress the importance of addressing microaggressions among employees to foster inclusive workplaces and the salience of race/ethnicity as a targeted identity in the human service professions. Recommendations include the development of workplace policies that create clear and effective avenues for addressing subtle discrimination. Individual social workers can effectively implement these policies by acknowledging, validating and ultimately reducing unintended harm to colleagues.

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This research contributes to one of the Grand Challenges for Social Work tackling our nation's toughest social problems: Eliminate racism.