To create social inequities in the classroom and explore the psychological aspects of privilege.
Prepare one packet of materials for every 4-5 students in class to make a mobile. At least half the packets should contain an elaborate assortment of materials, and the rest should contain only a few basic materials.
For example, an elaborate packet might include three wooden dowels, two wire coat hangers, a spool of thread, 10 sheets of colored construction paper, felt tip markers, ribbon, streamers, pom-poms, glitter, glue, and tape.
In contrast, the basic packet might include one wooden dowel, one wire coat hanger, a spool of thread, and two pieces of contruction paper.
- Explain that in today's session, the class will be exploring aspects of multiculturalism that are not always recognized or appreciated, and that to do this, you want to conduct a hands-on exercise.
- Divide the class into groups of 4-5 students, and seat each group at a separate table or work area.
- Ask each group to spend 15 minutes coming up with a definition of multiculturalism (a different term can be used, but this one usually works well for college students). Tell students that each group should work separately without talking to other groups.
- While students are discussing multiculturalism, place a packet of materials for making a mobile on each table.
- After 15 minutes are up, ask each group to make a mobile that represents their definition using only the materials provided in the packet.
- Once the mobiles are constructed, announce that you'd like the groups to present their mobiles to the class. Then ask one of the groups with elaborate materials to present its mobile, and follow this group with a group that was given only basic materials to work with.
- After the basic mobile has been presented, ask class members what it was like to work on this task, and open a more general discussion of privilege. In this discussion, you might ask privileged students whether they noticed their advantage in resources or whether they attributed underprivileged mobiles to dispositional factors such laziness or a lack of ability. Likewise, you might ask underprivileged students to share how they felt when the mobiles were presented in front of the class.
- This activity works best with classes of 10-40 students and can easily be adapted for use with younger students (e.g., by changing the small group discussion topic from multiculturalism to something age appropriate).
- For instructors using Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination, this activity fits well with Section III (on traditional racism), Section IV (on contemporary racism), and Section V (on sexism).
- As a follow-up assignment, students might be asked to write a paper connecting the mobile activity with McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 191-195). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Adapted from Lawrence, S. M. (1998). Unveiling positions of privilege: A hands-on approach to understanding racism. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 198-200.