Is asking someone, “Where are you from?” an example of microaggression? These days, it’s unclear.

In general, people generally apply the term microaggression to describe subtle or perceived insults on socially marginalized groups. It’s such a vague term, however, that is often used to label behavior that could mean anything—or nothing at all.

Nevertheless, in the name of preventing microaggressions, students at college campuses across the country are seeing their free speech rights curtailed.

In the Learn Liberty video below, Northwestern University Professor Laura Kipnis argues that we should differentiate between harmless microaggressions and harmful hate speech (for which there should be consequences).

So how should we handle microaggressions? Dr. Kipnis explains that they should be treated as opportunities for conversation. People should be able to make it known when something offends them without relying on ambiguous speech codes to protect them.

Discussions about controversial issues enhance the educational experience; fear of saying something that might somehow be interpreted as offensive stifles it.