Class Activity - Examining Race & Gender


Most Americans grew up believing that all Americans have equal opportunity to succeed because there is a level playing field and affirmative action was no longer necessary. Paul Kivel developed the examining race and gender exercise to challenge our common assumptions of equal access. This exercise was used in Dr. Natale’s undergraduate Human Diversity and Societal Oppression course to highlight issues related to racial and gender oppression. Everyone started out standing on a line facing Dr. Natale. Social Work students are told that the line is the starting line for a race to get one well-paying job, which they need to take care of their families. But before the race begins the starting positions are adjusted via the following Class and Gender exercise. Participants are asked to silently take a step forward or backward, depending upon given instructions and if a statement of social status applies to them. The students decide for themselves whether the statement applies. The exercise is done in silence to allow participants to notice the feelings that come up during the exercise.

Examples of questions for the race included:

  • If you were ever embarrassed or ashamed of your clothes, your house, or your family car when growing up, take one step backward. 
  • If you have immediate family members who are doctors, lawyers, or other professionals, take one step forward

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