Introduction

These exercises have been contributed by colleagues in response to requests for exercises designed to raise the awareness of psychology students about social class and socioeconomic issues. In some cases, the descriptions have been condensed from what was originally received, or have been modified to make them more specific to socioeconomic status (SES). The exercises are presented in alphabetical order, with the names of contributors noted in parentheses; their cooperation in this project is acknowledged with thanks.

The following index of key concepts is provided to assist with choosing useful exercises.

Attitudes: Project Implicit
Discrimination: Institutional Discrimination
Income : Allocation, Baby Egg
Oppression : Making a Connection, Re-Envisioning
Privilege: Class Privilege, Privilege Exercise
Property: Legacy Monopoly
Resources: Collage, Hunger, Social Class

Allocation of Possible Income
Geoff Maruyama

Groups of students are given different amounts of money on which to live (roughly approximating different US income groups). Each group is instructed to allocate funds to the categories of housing, clothing, education, transportation, recreation, etc. — other categories generated by the students. The groups write the results on a board for all to see. Upper income groups are asked to critique the lower income groups and vice versa. Typically "the upper groups are making attributions about the lower income groups and assuming values that are unwarranted... The exercise illustrates victim blaming, attributional processes and social perceptions, and prejudice."

Baby Egg
Faye Reimers

The activity involves dividing participants into high, middle and low-income groups. Have students sit with others in their same economic group. Next distribute fake money or a total sum of money (i.e., a voucher) that each group will have to work with. For example high SES may get $300, middle SES $150 and low SES $75.

Instruct all students that their goal is to purchase what they need to assure that their embryo or baby will have the best life has to offer in regard to safety and well being. There will be a "market" where each group can purchase supplies to accomplish their mission.

For example, at the market, supply items such as: four disposable diapers ($100 each), three pieces of bubble wrap ($75 each), two padded mailers ($50), newspaper sections ($25), pieces of fabric ($5), and pieces of string ($5). (Note: other items could be used.)

Before purchasing begins, have all economic groups preview merchandise for sale. Then give each economic group one raw egg to represent the "baby" they are attempting to shield from harm. Allow the students from the highest income group to make all of their purchases first. Next, the middle-income group can make purchases. Last, the lowest income group can purchase from whatever merchandise is left and/or they can afford.

Instruct all groups to protect their raw egg with their supplies from the market. After they have had time to wrap their eggs to shield them from harm, ask a representative from each economic group to stand on a chair with their wrapped egg. Have all three representatives (high, middle and low income) drop their egg to the ground.

Eggs that were best protected have the best chance of survival thus illustrating the reality of social class privilege. This experiment will most likely yield much emotion as the rich parents were better able to provide protection for their baby compared to parents with less economic advantage. Process emotions and relate this exercise to situations such as first dibs and adequate housing, health care, daycare, education, nutrition, etc.

Class Privilege Exercise
Adapted by Kumea Shorter-Gooden

This exercise is designed to make people more aware of power and privilege in our society. Since many privileges are implicit and invisible, this exercise aims to raise participants' consciousness about socioeconomic and class privilege. The exercise works best with 8 to 35 or so participants.

Equipment Needed
  • List of privileges — Make as many copies of the Privilege List as there are participants. Then cut the privileges out so that they are all separated.
  • A room large enough for the participants to sit around an open space and later to sit in a circle.
Time Needed
  • At least an hour and a half.

Instructions
  1. Tell participants that you will read a privilege, and that they are to consider whether it applies to them. After reading the first privilege, put all of the written slips of paper for that privilege in the middle of the group. Give participants a moment to reflect and then to pick up a privilege if it applies to them. After they have finished, collect the privileges that participants have not taken and put aside or discard.
  2. Tell participants that they are never obligated to pick up or not pick up a privilege slip, but what's important is to be aware of their thoughts, feelings and reactions as they make these decisions.
  3. Then read the second privilege, and proceed as above.
  4. When you have read all privileges and participants have selected the ones that pertain to them, ask them to count the number of privileges they are holding.
  5. Then ask them to sit in a circle according to the number of privileges. To do this, they must share with each other their total number. On one side of the Instructor should be the participant with the least number of privileges. On the other side of the Instructor should be the participant with the most privileges.
  6. Once the group is seated in order, ask the participants to talk about what it felt like to engage in this exercise. What were the feelings, which emerged when hearing privileges? Deciding whether or not to pick one up? Counting them? Sharing the number with others? Lining up based on number of privileges? Was there discomfort? Hesitancy? Shame? Pride? What do they think is behind those feelings?
  7. Then ask the group to discuss what they notice in the line-up: Are there patterns, with regards to ethnicity and race, in terms of who has more privileges and who has less privileges? Are there other patterns?
  8. Help the group to process what this exercise means to them, what they're surprised by and what they learned from it.
List of Privileges
  • As a child, I never shared a bedroom.
  • I've lived in a home with four or more bathrooms.
  • As a child growing up, I never lived in a rented apartment.
  • My family owns a summer home or second home.
  • I've never worked at a fast food restaurant.
  • I expect to get an inheritance from my family.
  • No one in my immediate family has ever been on welfare.
  • Neither of my parents ever collected unemployment benefits.
  • I don't have to work in order to survive as a graduate student.
  • As an undergraduate student, during the academic year, I never worked
    more than 10 hours a week.
  • As an undergraduate student, I was not eligible for need-based financial aid.
  • I've never had to work a paid job on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
  • No one in my immediate family has ever been in jail.
  • I've never bought anything using a layaway plan.
  • I've always had health insurance.
  • I've traveled to a country outside the United States where I have no relatives.
  • I have a trust fund or stocks or bonds in my name.
  • I have purchased and worn a pair of shoes that cost more than $150.
  • As an undergraduate, I had a credit card that my parents paid for.
  • I've never shopped with food stamps.
  • I've never worked a paid job that involved an evening or night shift.
  • I've never lived in a neighborhood that I considered unsafe.
  • At some time in my life, I've owned a brand new car.
Collage Construction
Michele Wittig, from Jonathan Zeledon

This has worked well with high school students.

Small groups of four students each are formed. Each group is asked to make a collage using the materials they are given. Half the groups are given generous materials: colored paper, scissors, colored pens and stickers. The other groups are given only a brown paper bag. Groups can communicate. It has been observed that some ask to use materials from groups with greater resources; some of those with more resources offer to share with other less affluent groups. After about 15 minutes, there is a debriefing and discussion session.

Hunger Banquet
Submitted by Heather Bullock, adapted from Oxfam

This is a great exercise for raising awareness of worldwide hunger, poverty and the distribution of resources. It is available on the Oxfam website; log in and obtain free access to downloadable materials). Instructions for organizing a Hunger Banquet are provided in the Oxfam America FAST Sourcebook.

The activity involves dividing participants into high, middle or low income groups. A script about the worldwide distribution of resources is provided for the moderator (instructor) as well as discussion questions for participants (students). After dividing participants into different class groupings and presenting information about the distribution of resources, participants are served a "meal" (e.g., a full-scale nutritious meal served at a banquet table vs. rice and water). Although the Oxfam exercise is geared toward a large audience, this exercise can easily be modified for classroom settings. I have used variations of this activity with great success in my upper-division course on the social psychology of poverty and social class with 30 or 60 students. This is a terrific activity to do at the start of the quarter during the first or second meeting of the class. Instead of a full meal, I typically have dessert with the high-income group being served a fancy cake from an upscale bakery, the middle-income group receiving one packaged cookie per member and the low-income group receiving one animal cookie per member.

Institutional Discrimination Exercise
Shared by Keith O'Brien, from Susan Goldstein, taken from Cultural Pursuit1

Each of the following policies is presented for discussion in terms of: whether it represents a form of institutional, i.e., systematic) discrimination;

  • Which groups, if any, are discriminated against.
  • The purpose of the policy.
  • If the purpose is a valid one, how else it might be achieved.
Policies
  • Children of alumni receive preference for admission into some private colleges.
  • Persons accused of a crime who cannot post bail are imprisoned and thus appear in court dressed in prison uniform, often in handcuffs.
  • An employment agency advertises for an "All-American type" to fill a public relations position.
  • Employees of a particular university are allowed free tuition, as are their spouses.
  • A corporation decides to fill an opening "in-house" rather than advertise.
  • A teacher requires an oral presentation as part of the final grade.
Legacy Monopoly
Elizabeth Cole, adapted from D. L. Stanley2

The text below is given to each student as a handout containing the rules of the game, rationale and discussion questions.

In the regular Monopoly game, players begin on an even footing of salary and endowments, and the winner is determined through a combination of skill and luck (dice). But in the U.S., there are dramatic inequities in inherited wealth that can have a large impact on financial outcomes, even when other factors (such as salary or education) are equal. This game is an exercise to understand how different initial endowments impact wealth accumulation and income distribution.

There are four types of players with different initial endowments and rules. This player differentiation is a twist on the original Parker Brother's Monopoly board game. Each player has a partner. In the upper right-hand corner of the record sheet [given to each player] you will find a designation of U[pper], M[iddle], L[ower]1, or L[ower]2 that indicates which player you and your partner represent. The information includes what salary you earn upon passing Go, what initial properties you own, and your ability to mortgage the property for loans. On each turn, you and your partner should decide jointly what actions to take.

Type of Player
Cash
Property Owned
Land Value
Total Wealth
Cash When Passing Go
Credit Access
Low-Type 1 $375 Mediterranean, Vermont, St. Charles $300 $675 $50 No bank mortgages
Low-Type 2 (paid for school-less cash, more salary) $300 Baltic, Oriental, States $300 $600 $100 Mortgage from bank at ½ value, 10 percent turn
Middle $750 Virginia, Tennessee, New York, B&O and Penn Railroad, Electric Co. $1,090 $1,840 $100 Mortgage from bank at ½ value, 105 turn
Upper $1500 Connecticut, Illinois, Marvin Gardens, Pacific, Penn, Park Place, Broadway, Shortline Railroad $2,210 $3,710 $200 Mortgage rule (as in original game) ½ value

 

Goal of the Game

The goal is to acquire as much property as possible so that you may charge other players rent (and avoid paying rent yourself). Remember that your primary objective is to maximize wealth.

Acquisition of Properties

Players may buy unallocated properties if they land on the spot. To speed up the process, unsold lands will be auctioned off after the first 15 minutes of play. After about 45 minutes of play, players will be allowed to swap properties among each other (under bargained terms) in the aim of getting color monopolies.

Monopolies and Rents

Once all properties of a certain color are acquired by one player, s/he has a local monopoly on that section and the rent doubles. Once you have a monopoly, you may construct houses and hotels (see price on property title); these improvements then triple and quadruple the rent.

Bankruptcy

Being charged rents can give a player cash shortfalls; to acquire more ready rent cash a player must either mortgage property or acquire cash by other means (private land sales or bartering with another player for a "moneylender" loan, say at 10 percent interest per turn). Eventually a player without cash will go bankrupt, at which point the game ends.

Jail

If you land on a "go to jail" square, you may pay $100 bail and you will not go to jail, lose a turn or miss your salary.

Keeping Notes

On your record sheet, note after each role of the dice where landed, rent paid/received, salary received, loans made, net worth, emotional responses, etc.

Discussion Questions (at end of game)
  1. Which assets seemed to make the most difference in the outcomes? Salary? Initial endowments? Skill, luck?
  2. What kind of feelings did you have during play — both about your own outcomes and those of the other players?
  3. What were your thoughts about risk and investment (e.g. decisions about whether to put up houses on your property)?
  4. How did the two Lower players fare? Substantial differences between the L player who invested in education and the L player who did not? Between the educated L player and the M player?
  5. Do you think these modified rules reflect reality?
Making a Connection With Oppression
From a paper by Dena Samuels3, shared by Arnie Kahn, and also by Corey Isaacs, from Steve Samuels
Journal Entry

Write or draw a picture about a situation in which you have felt oppressed and how it made you feel; share feelings in small group or with class as a whole.

Silently Standing in the Face of Oppression

Room is set up with chairs in a circle; everyone is seated and instructed that as a "prompt" is read, if the situation applies to you, stand up. This activity is to be done in silence. After each prompt, the facilitator asks "Please look around and notice who is standing and who is sitting." Those who are standing can sit down before the next prompt.

Prompts
  • If people routinely mispronounce your name... (stand up).
  • If you worry semester to semester about whether you'll be able to afford your college tuition... (stand up).
  • If you represent the first generation of your family to attend college... (stand up).
  • If an educator, counselor or other authority figure ever discouraged you from pursuing a particular field of study or profession...
  • If you ever had a job where you received less pay than somebody for doing equal work...
  • If you have ever been afraid to walk to your car at night on this campus...
  • If there is any dimension of your identity that you have to hid from most people in order to feel safe....
  • If you have ever felt you were being ignored because of your social class...

Once the prompts are completed, students are asked to address the following questions in their journals and then to discuss in class: "How did it feel to stand up? How did it feel to be sitting while others stood?"

Privilege Exercise
Arnie Kahn, adapted from Peggy McIntosh

Have students stand in a straight line (quite close together) and request that they hold hands with the person on either side of them for as long as possible and refrain from speaking during the exercise. Then ask:

  • If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
  • If your parents were professional, doctors, lawyers, etc., take one step forward.
  • If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one step back.
  • If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.
  • If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.
  • If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.
  • If your parents brought you to art galleries or plays, take one step forward.
  • If one of your parents was unemployed or lad off, not by choice, take one step back.
  • If you attended a private school or private summer camp, take one step forward.
  • If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.
  • If you were ever discouraged from academic pursuits or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
  • If you were ever encouraged to attend a college by your parents, take one step forward.
  • If prior to age 18, you took a vacation out of the country, take one step forward.
  • If one of your parents did not complete high school, take one step back.
  • If your family owned your own house, take one step forward.
  • If you were ever offered a good job because of your association or connection with a friend or family member, take one step forward.
  • If you ever inherited money or property, take a step forward.
  • If you ever had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.
  • If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.
  • If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.
"Project Implicit" Assignment
Claudia Leight

"I ask students to choose one or more attitude tests [from an online site4], then write a journal entry reflecting their results: the presence or absence of their individual biases revealed by the tests and their thoughts about how their attitudes might affect their roles as peer counselors [or... ]."

Re-envisioning the Historical Record
Alexandra Rutherford and Stephanie Austin

"Feminist scholarship has repeatedly demonstrated that how and what we come to know depends on who we are." (Morawski, 1990, p. 175)

So Who Are We?
  1. Instructor constructs several scenarios describing real historical figures in the history of psychology with certain biographical and contextual details 're-envisioned.'

  2. Instructor hands out the scenarios and asks students to reflect on and ponder the questions individually.

  3. After five minutes, students are asked to get together with the others in the class who have the same scenario as they do.

  4. Have students discuss the scenario for about 15 minutes. Invite a spokesperson from each group to say a few words or make a comment or two about the content and process of the exercise (what they learned, what they found useful, what was funny, etc.). Everyone should hear all the scenarios during the go-around. Everyone should hear a brief description of the answers each mini-group came up with.

General Question for Individual and Group Reflection

Think about the special circumstances in which your character finds herself/himself. Consider the different ways these circumstances might influence 1) his or her involvement/ representation in psychology, in history and in the history of psychology, 2) the content and nature of his/her contributions to psychological knowledge and 3) how these contributions may be similar or different from the theories you have actually learned about in this and other psychology courses. Consider the impact of personal, social, political and historical contexts on your character's ideas or theories and their possible reception.

Sample Scenarios

[these focus primarily on ethnicity/race/gender; others can be constructed that focus on social class]

  1. Your name is Mary Prince. You are a woman who has been living her entire life as a slave in the United States and therefore you have had no access to formal education. However, you have much to say about the experience of having been enslaved and have spoken with many members of your community about their experiences. You consider this to be an important aspect of a thorough understanding of what it means to be a human being since it has affected so many people in the history of the world.

  2. Your name is William James. You are a Black man who was taken from your home in West Africa to become a slave in the United States. You have many ideas about free will and resistance, and their importance for human beings. These ideas shape your psychological theorizing and notion of what it means to be human.

  3. Your name is Margaret Stetter.* You are the daughter of an Illinois farmer, raised during the Great Depression, and you completed a high school education which was unusual for someone of your background. You love to write, and have just given birth to your first daughter. Watching her change and develop in her first year of life inspires you to keep a detailed diary of her behavior.

    *mother of Leta Stetter Hollingworth

  4. Your name is Pradeep Bhattacharyya. It is 19th century India and in your studies you have made scientific observations that lead you to believe that species change and evolve through a process of natural selection. In India there are multiple religions practiced, and in some groups a rigid caste system is in place. You are Hindu and your family is well known and respected in your small community.

  5. Your name is Francesco Galton. You live Argentina and are interested in eminence and why certain people are able to accomplish great things in their chosen fields. You decide that you would like to know more about how eminence develops and is transmitted. Unfortunately, your family is very poor and does not have the financial resources to allow you to engage in unpaid scholarly activity.

  6. Your name is Susan Freud. You are interested in hysteria, as it seems to afflict so many women in late 19th-century Austria and has received so much attention from famous physicians like Jean Charcot. You are unmarried and come from a family of very limited means. You have a close friend, however, named Bertha Pappenheim, who is under treatment for hysteria with Josef Breuer.

  7. Your name is Kenneth Clark. You are a Puerto Rican man who was raised in Harlem. In elementary school you were put in a special education class as a result of psychological testing. Your mother pleaded for re-testing, believing that your abilities were not accurately assessed. Because she could not speak English well, her pleas were ignored. You took a low-paying job at age sixteen and quit school. After many years, you would now like to return to school to study psychology.

Social Class Exploration
Adapted from photocopied article, written by a group of women living in Sonoma County, from working and middle class backgrounds

Students are instructed as follows: Growing up in a class society, we've all learned attitudes about others and ourselves that help perpetuate the class system. These questions will aid you in becoming aware of the oppressions and/or privileges you've experienced because of your background and how they affect your life now. Awareness is the first step in making a commitment to change.

Money and Work
  • Who earned money in your family? How much? Did the income change?
  • What were the attitudes about spending? saving? loaning/borrowing? accepting welfare?
  • Did you feel you had enough? more or less than your friends?
  • What kind of job did the money earners in the family have? How much control did they have at work?
  • Who owned the work place?
  • What were your family's/friends'/society's view of the status of that work?
Home
  • What kind of neighborhood did you live in?
  • Did you own your home?
  • Did you move a lot? If so, why?
  • Who lived at home? grandparents? older/married children?
  • Who cleaned your home?
  • How were feelings, especially anger, expressed?
Education
  • How much "formal" education did your parents have?
  • What were the expectations for your education?
  • Are you the first generation in your family to attend college?
  • What do you believe is the most important reason for a college education?
Health
  • Did you get regular physical checkups?
  • When you were ill, were you taken to a doctor? a hospital? a clinic?
  • Did you go for regular dental exams and cleaning? Were your teeth filled?
  • Did you have braces?
  • How was smoking treated in your family?
  • How was alcohol use treated?
  • Was regular exercise considered important?
  • What about participation in sports?
  • What were the attitudes about food, eating in your family? What types of meals, snacks, drinks, desserts were common?
Now
  • How would you describe your class background and current class status?
  • How do you feel about your class background and status? (angry, ashamed, guilty... )
  • Did your parents tell you that you were from a specific class?
  • How do your attitudes about your work and money compare with those of your parents?
  • Do you see yourself as upwardly or downwardly mobile?
  • In groups, how do you see your power? How do you feel about, react to the power of others?
  • How do you relate to people in school or at work who are in a different class?
  • If you get in a financial jam, can your parents help you out financially?
  • What are some examples of oppressions and/or privileges you experience now that relate to your class background?
Footnotes

1 Available from Patricia Rollins Trosclair, Assistant to the Dean of Students: Multicultural Students, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. A game manual, sample cards, etc. can be ordered.

2 Stanley, D.l. (2001). Wealth distribution and imperfect factor markets: A classroom experiment, Journal of Economic Education, Fall, 344-355.

3 Samuels, D.R. (2003), What's in your student's "Invisible Knapsack"? Facilitating their connection with oppression and privilege. In B. Scott, J. Misra, & M. Segal (Eds.), Race, gender, and class in sociology: Toward an inclusive curriculum (pp. 5-14). Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association. 

4 Project Implicit