Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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College Student Assignments

Turning the Tables on Heterosexism


To deepen students' understanding of sexual orientation and increase empathy for people whose sexual orientation is questioned.


Ask students to write a 3- to 5-page paper in which they either answer the following questions about themselves or interview a heterosexual friend using the same questions:

  1. When and how did you first decide you were heterosexual?
  2. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
  3. Is your heterosexuality just a phase you'll outgrow?
  4. Does it stem from a fear of people of your own sex?
  5. Is it possible that you just need a good homosexual lover?

Invite students to write not only about the answers to these questions but about their psychological reactions and insights from the assignment itself. If students find the questions awkward to ask or answer, encourage them to consider why similar questions are commonly asked of homosexuals.

Related Assignment

Another empathy-building exercise for heterosexual students is to keep their sexual orientation 100% in the closet for a period of one week (so that even Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be able to tell that they are heterosexual) and to write a 3- to 5-page paper about the experience.


Students who are uncomfortable with these assignments should not be forced to complete them. Instead, students might write a 3- to 5-page paper discussing (a) why they prefer not to complete the given assignment, or (b) whether they feel that heterosexism is a serious problem in contemporary society.


Adapted from page 28 of Cyrus, V., & Main, L. C. (2000). Instructor's Resource Guide to Accompany Experiencing Race, Class, and Gender in the United States (3rd ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.