Illustrating the Social Construction of Race and Racial Stereotypes with Images


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Instructors often encounter resistance when they challenge students’ pre-existing beliefs about race and ethnicity. Students often find the idea that these categories are socially constructed, rather than purely biological, difficult to grasp, if not threatening. We developed a classroom activity to use when discussing the social construction of racial categories and stereotypes that actively engages students in comparing and critiquing their beliefs about racial and ethnic groups, as well as the stereotypes we apply to them. The activity uses images that illustrate to students how inaccurate our perceptions of race often are. Responses to the activity were overwhelmingly positive. Students reported that the activity helped them understand the concepts we were discussing. Because they analyzed their ideas themselves, students seemed to enjoy, rather than resist, challenges to their beliefs about racial and ethnic categories and stereotypes.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Gwen Sharp, Nevada State College
Lisa Wade 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Race, Class and Gender 
Class Level:
College 100 
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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Includes two related but distinct activities that can be used alone or in conjunction. We have used them for several semesters and found them effective and engaging for students.

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will recognize how perceptions of physical features are affected by pre-existing assumptions about racial categories.
Assessment 1:
Students will turn in lists made during Activity 1 showing their answers to questions raised during activity.
Goal 2:
Students will recognize how stereotypes are sufficiently broad and generalized to be applied to many groups.
Assessment 2:
Students will share which groups they thought were represented in the images presented and discuss how the class as a whole applied the stereotypes to a wide variety of groups.

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Sharp Wade TRAILS Manuscript.doc