Was this a microaggression? Do I bring it up when I leave the gig?
September 9, 2016 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I volunteer for a tiny nonprofit that I am considering quitting due to a staff member's overt rudeness. However, what's really bothering me is an offhand remark by one of the nonprofit's directors.

When comparing two countries she'd visited, a Nordic country and an East Asian one, the director added without prompting that the people in the Nordic country are better-looking. She is white and very conventionally attractive, though presumably not Nordic. She was addressing a group of three volunteers, two of them Asian-American. It seemed slightly off to me at the time, and it is looming larger for me as I weigh the decision to leave.

I've since had an unpleasant experience with another staff member who thinks it's acceptable to yell at volunteers, so I am pretty much out, though I haven't officially left yet. However, I'm wondering if I should try to discuss either or both the director's remark and the staff member's rudeness with the volunteer coordinator, or if I should give my notice without bringing these things up. It's a very small place, and they're very tight-knit, so I am hesitant.
posted by ziggly to Human Relations (16 answers total)
People are lame. You can't do anything about it. They'll be lame with or without you.

Flag it and move on.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:03 PM on September 9, 2016 [17 favorites]

People struggle to change even when their lives depend on it. You're a volunteer. What are the chances that they'll change for you?

Just leave.
posted by Trifling at 10:04 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure what a microaggression is. This doesn't sound like aggression as much as general poor behavior not befitting someone with that role. I've be concerned about the quality of work of someone who would be dumb enough to say something like that, esp in the presence of other volunteers in the org who are asian-american. It may be aggressive, or just dick-ish, but the bigger concern is: can such an ignorant person do well by the cause of the org?

I would presume this person doesn't have much value or respect for volunteers, and would act accordingly.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 10:08 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

The first isn't a microaggression, it's someone mistakenly thinking people care who she finds attractive. The second is just a jerk.
posted by rhizome at 10:38 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I’d bring it up. If the question is whether you should quit without saying anything, or quit while flagging these things on your way out, I think you should definitely say something if it's on your mind.
posted by naturalnumbers at 10:58 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you want references or anything further from this organisation? If so, I would give notice and leave without saying anything about the problems you have had. If you are sure that you'll never need anything from them, I would still give notice and leave but would also make a short comment about the environment to the volunteer coordinator. Either way, it seems clear that you have already made the decision to leave. Your feedback will probably be easier to give, and to take, if you offer it after everyone knows you are leaving - that way it can only be interpreted as feedback for the benefit of future volunteers, not as a request that people change for your benefit.

In giving feedback, I personally would focus more on the yelling than on the insensitive racial remark -- just because the latter kind of problem is much harder to fix with some training and I suspect HR or whoever will not always prioritise it. I would mention the comment as an example of lack of respect for volunteers - with the yelling a more serious example of the same thing - but not make it the main burden of my feedback.
posted by Aravis76 at 10:59 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess a great deal depends on the situation, but as you describe it sounds more like a random thing to say. But as I say, context and tone determine a lot of this, so all I can say is "not obviously" or "maybe". Unless it is part of a pattern of microaggressions against East Asians or other races from that Director, I'm not sure I would bother to bring it up because it is too plausibly deniable. I have found that people can understand if they're creating a pattern, but as a one off it is usually difficult to make a case. What would be your goal in bringing it up? Awareness? Dinging the Director? What?

Regarding the rudeness, that I might bring up, but then I would do it like this: "I like a lot about organisation xyz, but at times there's an environment where staff members raise their voice or are rude to others during stress. I don't think they're bad people, but it doesn't make me comfortable and I'd rather volunteer where I am comfortable. Thanks for the chance to learn here!"
posted by frumiousb at 11:06 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sounds bad to me -- really inappropriate. I would probably decide to drop it because the stupid would not be worth it to me.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:14 PM on September 9, 2016

The volunteer coordinator should be told that a staff member is yelling at volunteers or otherwise treating them rudely--the tricky part for you is figuring out how to word it so it sounds factual, neutral and true, rather than gossipy or like teenagers bickering about who is the worst.

I coordinate pro bono attorneys at a small NPO. The approach that would work for me is: you let me know you're planning to stop volunteering for us, tell me when your last shift/activity/whatever will be, and schedule an offsite meeting (like grabbing coffee) to debrief. (It is incredibly common in my industry for people to meet to discuss stuff about the organization and its work at coffee shops or over lunch or any place that is not someone's office.)

I would not suggest that "Jane is terribly rude to volunteers" be the first thing out of your mouth, but after you chat a bit about the positives, mention it.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:26 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yelling at volunteers is not only a dick move but really bad for the organization for all the glaringly obvious reasons. For that reason, I would mention the person who yells at volunteers (sheesh!) using frumiousb's script. I would not bother mentioning the first incident; the person is just clueless and it would be a waste of your time to spend another second thinking about it.
posted by holborne at 8:22 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

When things make me uncomfortable in a professional setting, I either say: "that made me uncomfortable" or "that was inappropriate" (reserved for times where I am very upset). It's best (though hard) to address these things in the moment.

You can bring both of these things up (of course) when you leave. Personally I wouldn't use the phrase "microaggression" because that is going to invite debate. (I think this was a microaggression personally.) Also, think about what you would like to see happen and then use that to guide your feedback. Something like "I want this place to be a welcoming place for all volunteers so I think we should always treat them with respect. When Sally yells at volunteers, it seems to me that they will feel unwelcome."

This is basically the STARAR method of feedback & there are many other feedback methods out there to look into.
posted by CMcG at 10:09 AM on September 10, 2016

The second scenario is appalling. Aren't non-profits constantly looking for committed volunteers? Yelling at them is beyond the pale. Don't waste your valuable spare time at such a place.

The first scenario doesn't register with me as anything especially heinous.

Is "micro aggression" a non-profitish sort of jargon?
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:36 PM on September 10, 2016

As a volunteer coordinator at a small non-profit, I am of two minds here. First, your vol coordinator very likely already knows about the issues with these two people. Getting other staff to "buy in" on working with volunteers, and to do so professionally, is one of the hardest parts of a coordinator's job. My second thought though is that I would want a leaving volunteer to tell me about these problems, because having it in an official report makes it more possible for me to do something about it. (Hey guys, we're losing volunteers because you're yelling at them and being a racist ass. Stop it!) A very well run place will do exit interviews with volunteers just like they would with paid staff.

Maybe a good way to test the waters is to say to the coordinator that you're resigning because you've been made to feel unwelcome by staff. If they pursue that statement then please fill them in the details you've given here. If they don't pursue the statement, don't waste any more of your time there and please come volunteer for me!
posted by AliceBlue at 1:33 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think the first scenario is a microagression to the Asian American volunteers but not to you. That said it was highly inappropriate and irrelevant. The second scenario is just bad for business. Leave and if the
ask tell them why you're leaving. You
may not think you have much to gain but you don't have anything to lose. Advise other people in your circle not to volunteer there or leave a glassdoor review if you feel so compelled.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 5:04 AM on September 11, 2016

I just called out a co-worker for making an insensitive racial remark that was more offensive than the one you listed. Other co-worker defended stance of person I called out. Subsequently, I was the jerk. I don't regret pointing out that she was being offensive, but it certainly didn't go in my favor. Not for nothing, but you might want to be aware that is how most of these scenarios go down. Otherwise, if you are volunteering and people suck? Quit. At least I get PAID to be around the asshats.
posted by palindromeisnotapalindrome at 9:21 AM on September 11, 2016

The racial remark isn't even a microaggression; it's straight up racism / white supremacy.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:36 PM on September 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

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