Why Microaggression Matter

by Dr. Terry O’Hara

Microaggression is a topic that does not receive anything close to the current focus upon bullying and cyberbullying in the media.  Still, there is research indicating that microaggression can be very detrimental to recipients of it.

Derald Wing Sue, a psychologist at Columbia University, defines microaggression as everyday slights and insults that minority persons and marginalized groups encounter.  Persons who enact microaggression often are unaware of their behaviors—the behaviors are revelatory of unconscious bias and are often outside of our awareness.  Also, on the surface, microaggressions can seem benign, innocent, and complimentary, yet there are veiled metamessages that are often demeaning and patronizing.

Let’s look at some examples of this:

  • A Caucasian woman states to an African-American teenager, “Wow, you are so bright! I can’t believe how bright and articulate you are!”
  • A Caucasian professor indicates to his third generation, Asian-American student: “I’m very impressed with your English, you speak so fluently!”
  • A female executive in a pharmaceutical company is ignored during a contentious meeting, for the most part filled with white, male executives.
  • Wendy Bell, the former local newscaster, exclaiming to the manager of an African-American restaurant worker, “I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.”


In the first example, the essential metamessage is that it is atypical or unique for an African-American teenager to be bright and articulate.  In the second, that Asian-Americans, even third generation Asian-Americans, typically have a tenuous grasp of English.   In the third, the female executive is rendered invisible by her male colleagues, as her discourse is interrupted and cut short.  Ms. Bell, in the fourth example, was filled with unreflective, patronizing, and demeaning discourse toward the restaurant worker.  As if only from her perspective is one able to deliver legitimate praise to the worker.

In Dr. Sue’s research, he finds that microaggressions, at times, can be more harmful than outright racism, as the slights are subtle and not easily detectible, yet simultaneously demeaning and psychologically damaging, as they can lead to confusion and anger.  They are confusing as one is being complimented and insulted in the same breath!

From Dr. Sue’s perspective, we should be vigilant about our biases and not exhibit defensiveness if another calls our attention to bias or microaggression.  Further, we should be open to changing our attitudes and beliefs.

At Socialize Right, we will work to assist in understanding bias and provide education to businesses and entities about microaggression, it’s effects, and ways to prevent this.

Reflections on Bullying

by Dr. Terry O’Hara

I will attempt, in this short paper, to define bullying and briefly discuss the effects of bullying and risk factors for one who bullies.  Further, I will briefly touch upon why one may bully another and ways to address bullying.

What is Bullying?

In the extensive research on bullying, bullying typically must contain the following components:  a) a power differential between the bully and the one who is bullied, b) the bullying encounter occurs repeatedly and over a period of time as opposed to isolated incidents, and c) the bullying act is intentional.

When these three factors are not present, we are seeing something other than bullying, perhaps a violent act, an episode of aggression, reactive aggression, or mobbing behavior, to name some alternatives.

Factors of Bullying and Being Bullied:

The CDC[1] has compiled very useful information regarding the factors associated with one who bullies and the effects of being bullied. Regarding one who bullies, he or she is at greater risk of experiencing family conflict, substance abuse, learning disorders, exposure to violence, lack of a connection or belongingness to school, and emotional distress.

Children who bully others, according to the ongoing research project by C. Bradshaw at the Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention of Youth Violence in Baltimore[2], are more likely to engage in delinquent activity, including carrying a firearm, exhibiting truancy, and belonging to a gang.  W. Copeland et. al, found that children who bully are four to five times at increased risk of antisocial personality disorder, have more relational and employment difficulties, are at risk of substance abuse, and are more likely to be involved with the police.

There are also several negative outcomes associated for one who is bullied, according to the CDC, including depression, anxiety, aggression, substance abuse issues, poor school performance, and interpersonal issues.

Dan Olweus is often considered the primary researcher of bullying.  In his work, he characterizes the typical victim as follows:  “The typical victims are more anxious and insecure than other students in general.  Further, they are often cautious, sensitive, and quiet.  When attacked by other students, they commonly react by crying (at least in the lower grades) and withdrawal.  Also, victims suffer from low self-esteem, they have a negative view of themselves and their situation; they often look upon themselves as failures and feel stupid, ashamed and unattractive.” (p. 1178)

According to a study by Kim and Leventhal, victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims of bullying.  In a study in the United Kingdom[3], half of suicides among young persons was associated to bullying. Copeland et. al, found that being bullied places one at five times greater risk for depression and three to five times greater risk for psychological problems.

Why Bully?

We have research, noted above, that references risk factors associated for persons who bully.  Still, this leads us to a question that has not been sufficiently researched:  Why does the presentation of vulnerability in another influence some children to respond with malice (bullying) instead of empathy?

In my clinical experience of working with children and families for approximately 20 years, I have arrived at the following hypotheses.  There is an assumption that victims of bullying are passive and unobtrusive, yet to the one who bullies, there is an allure to this passivity.  Psychological projects of humiliation and domination, for the bully, are much easier to attain within this dynamic of passivity—it is much safer for the one who bullies when the object of bullying does not strike back. There is clearly a reciprocity between the aggressor and victim, which is something that Freud articulated in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  I’ve often found an interplay between the bully’s previously experienced powerlessness or vulnerability (via exposure to violence, abuse, or a significant learning disorder, for example) and his or her psychological projects of dominance and power, and the focal point of this interplay is the passive other.  In a sense, the bully possesses limitations to his or her psychological freedom precisely because the other’s passivity is so visible and obtrusive, as the bully is given back himself/herself on different levels of vulnerability—there is subsequently something of a compulsion to dominate this passive other.  In the transformation that occurs in the bullying encounter, the weakness of the other that is preyed upon and exploited gives to the bully, who is often responding to a threatening world, his or her comparative strength.

What Can be Done?

In my experience, it is foundationally important to examine the intentionality of the bullying behavior, to view the bullying act as communication about the projects that are psychologically necessary and relevant for the one who bullies.  As children who bully are often victims themselves in other arenas, it is counter-indicated to blame, shame, and criminalize the bullying behavior, although it is simultaneously important to set limits with regard to this behavior.  Bullying behaviors are possibilities of all of us, whether we are researchers, clinicians, or parents, given the right combination of experiences, and it is important, in my opinion, to emphasize an approach of understanding and empathy in the face of the bullying encounter.

I advocate for bullies and victims to participate in comprehensive evaluations to articulate treatment needs and for family members, teachers, and school counselors to be involved in these interventions.  Victims of bullying can often benefit from treatment by skilled clinicians.

Socialize Right can provide education and relevant tools to assist parents, teens, children, and families to combat this growing problem, which is all the more pervasive through avenues of social media.

For bullies, it is essential to determine what he or she is getting from bullying and examine ways to discover this power, control, esteem, etc. in another manner.  For victims, it is essential to increase assertiveness, communication, and esteem. Increasing one’s sense of belonging to a school or group is also essential, for both bullies and children who are bullied.



  • Olweus, D. (1994). Annotation: Bullying at school: Basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program. Journal of Child Psychiatry, 35, 7, 1171-1190.
  • Copeland et. al. Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying and Being Bullied by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013; 70(4): 419-426.
  • Y-S. Kim and B. Leventhal. Bullying and suicide. A review. Int J Adolesc Med Health, 20 (2), 2008.
  • Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle; by C.J.M. Hubback. London, Vienna: International Psycho-Analytical, 1922; bartleby.com, 2010.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/research-finds-bullying-link-to-child-suicides-1999349.html

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/

[2] http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/center-for-prevention-of-youth-violence/research/current_projects.html

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/research-finds-bullying-link-to-child-suicides-1999349.html


Socialize Right becomes LLC, looks to expand nationally

(Josh Miller and Eric Sloss, presenting social media training to University of Pittsburgh Football Team – photo courtesy of University of Pittsburgh)

Socialize Right Launches to Educate Students, Parents, Organizations and Teachers About Social Media in a Contemporary Way

Pittsburgh, PA – April 2017 – A new social venture called Socialize Right, teaching students, parents, organizations and teachers the right ways to use social media is now a LLC after 18-months of development from Josh Miller, a radio host and former NFL punter, his business partner Domenic Mantella and Shift Collaborative, a creative agency that offers web and graphic design, social media and public relations services. The two companies spun-out a new way to help people use social media the right way with the help of a private investor, Mike Evan, of Mt. Lebanon, PA.

Evan is a 19-year financial services veteran who spent over a decade managing institutional fixed income and money market portfolios for BNY Mellon, Barclays Global Investors, and BlackRock.  His most recent role was Global Head of Fixed Income Securities Lending and EMEA Head of Fixed Income Financing for BlackRock, based in London, U.K.  

“I’ve reported on it so many times how professional athletes who misuse social media. Our program sets the foundation for teachers, students and parents to present themselves the right way in social media,” said Miller. “Our products bridge the gap between what students know about social media and what parents don’t know about online activity. As a parent of three, I know the struggle it is for parents to manage kids social media feeds. It’s hard to be a kid these days. One poor judgement on social media could mean a major lost opportunity. Socialize Right is the perfect solution for parents and kids to understand the vast social media landscape.”

The company was inspired by a social media presentation Shift Collaborative designed for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015.

“The demand for up-to-date information about the landscape of social media has been remarkable,” said Eric Sloss, co-founder of Socialize Right and Principal Partner of Shift Collaborative. “The current opportunities for adults and youth to understand the ever changing landscape of social media is daunting, poorly designed and not a contemporary reflection about the world they live in. Socialize Right makes the information accessible and we shape real-time issues happening in social media and turn them into lessons for parents and youth. We share present-day social media information that is beautifully designed and understandable.”


Socialize Right offers seminars or assemblies, collateral material that reminds students and teachers about social media to hang in schools and one-on-one consultation with parents, teacher and youth. The program offerings include current and former professional athletes who help teach from their experiences about social media and a category to help organizations teach employees how to use social media when representing an institution.


The new company now offers an Online Learning Management platform to teach educators, parents and students how social media influences their life. The platform is an easy to use education platform that offers information about various apps being used like Snapchat and Instagram and other ways to intervene with youth about online activity. The platform has a series of question and answers that allows users to retain information by providing it in small modules.


“In two decades working at the University of Pittsburgh, I’ve never received more positive, unsolicited feedback on a presentation from our student-athletes then I did with Socialize Right,” said E.J. Borgetti, Executive Associate Athletic Director. for Media Relations for the University of Pittsburgh. “Moreover, I saw firsthand throughout the season how our football team applied what was taught and emphasized in the program. The presentation is a highly effective mix of information, education and entertainment that provides vivid examples of how—and how not—to conduct oneself in today’s pervasive media culture. I would emphatically recommend this program for any team, organization or corporation that works in the public spotlight.”

Socialize Right provided more than 15 schools with social media consultation. Evan’s investment will allow the social venture into more schools and scale nationwide. Westmoreland County Community College, University of Pittsburgh Football Team, Springdale High School, Homer-City Middle School and High School Voyager Academy in North Carolina and Plum School District are a few districts the program has helped educate current trends in social media.

Socialize Right appoints Daniel E. Lentz, Ph.D., an administrator at Fox Chapel Area High School, as the Chief Executive Officer.  Since 2009, Lentz has served as the Program Principal at Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has worked in multiple administrative roles at four different school districts in the greater Pittsburgh area. His experience over a 26 year career includes a focus on teacher professional development, high school reform initiatives, technology integration, and curriculum development. Presently, Dr. Lentz is the director of the Northern Area Principals Association and owner of Spumoni Educational Consultants.

Research on cyber-bullying and online activity for Socialize Right is supported by the work of Dr. Terry O’Hara Ph.D. Dr. O’Hara is a Licensed Psychologist. He has over 20 years of experience working with children, adults, and families in a variety of settings. He also has extensive experience with diverse and challenging populations, including patients with dual diagnosis issues, conduct disordered children, sex offenders, and patients with major mental illness.

Super Bowl Champion, Miller, has a unique perspective as both a former professional athlete and a current member of the sports news media. Prior to becoming a radio host on Pittsburgh’s premiere sports radio station, 93.7 The Fan, Miller was an NFL punter for 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, and the Tennessee Titans. Seeing the corrosive power of social media from multiple perspectives lead Miller to team up with Shift Collaborative in order to offer social media training to young athletes and students. In his time on the radio, Josh has reported about athletes getting in trouble on social media.

Domenic Mantella, co-founder and principal adds many years experience in branding and marketing celebrities and professional athletes like Brandon Marshall, G Hannelius, Carson Palmer, and Shawne Merriman.

Rocco Cozza Esq. joins as managing member. His practice areas include business law, employment law, real estate law, intellectual property law, litigation and asset protection.

TenFourSocial, a social media management company, provides assistance with seminars and sales.

Fore more information about the products, services or programs visit socializeright.org, call 412-480-7246 or email info@socializeright.org.


Highland Middle School – presentation with students and parents

Highland Middle School continues to focus on ensuring students have a rigorous learning environment centered on collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking. They invite students to continue to grow academically and take an active role in their education.

Principal Amy Anderson understands the importance of how social media plays a critical role in her students and parents lives. On Friday October 7, 2016 the Socialize Right team presented in front of more than 600 Middle School students and there teachers and met with parents later that afternoon. We learned that security and privacy is a big issue for children. Parents continue to try and catch up to the digital divide. Mrs. Anderson’s good vision, with the hemp of her staff, allowed us to partake in a constructive conversation with her kids.

E.W. Beattie Tech

Our challenge at A.W. Beattie Tech on September 1 was to teach kids the skills of social media, yet some of them students go straight to a full-time job. We balanced what we share with our clients and what kids should know. Your digital legacy last forever.




Voyager Academy – North Carolina

Voyager Academy VikingOn March 24, 2016 we visited more than 200 seventh and eighth graders at Voyager Academy in North Carolina. This important charter school sits are the footsteps of Duke University. The kids were very well behaved and intuitive. Many students were concerned about how long things stay online once they post. Gina Vensel and Eric Sloss offered insight into the way digital content stays online forever. They emphasized “Pause Then Post”, slowing down the instant gratification that allows social media users to post emotional content towards quick reactions. The kids asked questions about why does Google show images on social media pages to the public to how can people steal Snapchat photos if they go away?

We spent an hour and a half with parents from the area. Many parents simply cannot keep up with all the new apps that are being developed. Gina and Eric shared insight into tips on how parents can build a relationship with their kids about how they use social media. We say it is a “social” experience so ones family plays an important part of how a family relates to others in public forums. Work together. A parent might not be “technically” savvy, but  it’s not that hard to learn these apps. Families should work together.

Protect your child from cyberbullying

Cyberbullying affects most children on the internet today.

  • 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online.
  • 1 in 4 students has been bullied online more than once
  • The most common mode of bullying is via a cell phone.
  • 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.
  • 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person.

source: DoSomething.org