This role play lesson plan was developed by M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution students at George Mason University for Dr. Arthur Romano’s Pedagogy course and was piloted in that class.
In the last few years there has been a rise of real and alleged incidents of bias and hate speech on college campuses which have sparked vigorous and much needed debate over these events, what happened at them, and what the proper response ought to be. Often times the complexity of those events and of the identities, beliefs, policies, and intentions wrapped up in them get swept aside by one-sided rhetoric that simplifies incidents as revolving solely around questions of race, privilege, or free speech. In order to encourage students to critically explore the complexity of these issues and the spectrum of experiences, bias, identities, intentions, and policies this lesson plan lays out a role playing scenario around such an incident. Specifically this scenario is loosely based on a real-life incident at a college around a “Tequila party” that caused much debate which highlights the difficulty of reducing any such case into a clear-cut understanding of what happened or what answers ought to be sought. Please note that the scenario and roles used in this role play are fictional and have no relation to actual faculty, staff, or students at that college.
The goal of this lesson is to have students engage in a lively discussion about the complexity of bias incidents by taking on two different identities, or roles, of fictional actors on a college campus. Ideally the discussion and the diversity of roles whose views and priorities might not align with every student’s own views will stimulate a better understanding of how such a conflict plays out in all its complexity. Additionally students will should gain some empathy and ability to understand, if not necessarily agree, with other points of view and see how this could be useful in dealing with these incidents. Rather than having the students looking at the conflict from the outside with the intent of fixing the problem, they will instead experience it from the inside and will confront differing view points on the incident and proposed college policy.
Schedule and Time: About 45 minutes
The lesson would be broken down into roughly the following schedule:
Activity and prompt read out loud and explained to the class. A copy of both should be available either on a projector or on printed copies for each participant.
|2 Minutes||Groups and Role Assignment
Class divided into groups of no more than eight (including facilitators) and are given their randomized roles. Note there should be one facilitator per group.
|15 Minutes||First Discussion
The facilitators help begin a group discussion with each role player introducing themselves and given time to speak. The facilitators should take an active role not to shape the group’s opinion but rather to help get everyone into the mood of role playing, to ensure everyone has a chance to talk, and to keep the discussion civil and on topic.
|15 Minutes||Second Discussion
The facilitators have all students pass their roles to the person across from them or to the right. Then the facilitators lead the groups in restarting the discussions again but this time with everyone’s new roles. The facilitators should guide the discussion the same way as the first one; with everyone introducing themselves and the facilitators both being involved in their role and acting as moderator when needed.
The facilitators will announce when the time for the second discussion is up and they will gather everyone back into a larger circle. At this point they will ask the debrief questions to check-in on the dynamic of each group and of the individual students’ thoughts and feelings on the experience of the exercise.
A projector and computer with which to display the scenario and discussion prompt for reference during the activity. The facilitators may also instead opt to print out copies of the scenario and prompt for every participant.
Printed and individually cut packets of role strips to be handed out to each group of eight students. The slips should may be given to each participant randomly or else may be folded and pull randomly out of a container. Regardless, it is important for each group to have it’s own separate packet of roles to choose from to avoid double roles.
Students of a dorm at Miskatonic University have advertised publicly on social media and with fliers around campus that they would be having a “Tequila Party,” which some of them also referred to as a “Fiesta.” The party went forward and involved drinking tequila wearing sombreros, pictures of which surfaced on Facebook after the event. In the days following the emergence of those pictures, some students began to protest against the event on the grounds it was a form of racial and ethnic stereotyping. Students and college groups on both sides began to be involved in protests and writing opinion pieces in the college paper over the event and the administration’s subsequent condemnation of any stereotyping as against the Honor Code and the University’s values. The administration has asked for respectful dialogue and has gathered everyone here today who is interested in a townhall to hear student feedback on how to move forward and address any concerns.
Prompt for Discussion:
The University’s Student Life and Multi-Cultural Committee has proposed that for the duration of the academic year (approximately three months) all non-academic events must be approved at least a week in advance by a newly created Event Review Board that will screen for and prevent potential violations of the Social Code and College Values. Please note that this is a proposal and that such a Board has not been set up yet.
President of the University
- You are the new president of an up and coming prestigious university. You have been given the legacy of working to hit the billion dollar endowment mark for building upgrades, competitive faculty salaries, and higher scholarships. Your background is in Public Relations and Business.
- Hidden Concern – One of the biggest donors’ sons was one of the students who threw the party.
- Other Concern- Save the reputation of the university without causing more controversy is main goal.
- You are one of the students who threw the party. You are genuinely apologetic for the uproar, though are uncertain as to why it was/is an issue. You didn’t do anything maliciously with the intent to hurt anyone. You see no difference between the party you helped host and the atmosphere found in any Mexican restaurant. Anyone can wear Sombreros or drink tequila without being a racist.
- Major concern, minimize social shaming (has been repeatedly called a racist in person and on Facebook).
- Avoid long-term repercussions on your reputation since you will graduate in two years and need to find a job.
- You briefly attended the party but you felt a bit uncomfortable with the atmosphere and so left early. You had initially intended at the behest of a friend whose girlfriend was one of the hosts. You think that perhaps the way the party was handled could be seen as inconsiderate and you are wary of stereotyping, but you also didn’t think it was a huge deal.
- First concern, you think that the proposal is not the right answer.
- Also concerned with cultural awareness/sensitivity.
President of Latin American Student Association
- The University is located in a predominately white area where most of the diversity comes from the school which itself is not incredibly diverse. You created the Latin American Student Association to embrace and show pride for the Latino heritage of the increasing number of Latino/Latina students. You also felt the Association was necessary to combat a traditional lack of inclusion on campus.
- Concerned with addressing underlying issues of discrimination and more clearly deliberate and extreme forms of hate speech experienced by students at the university and the local area.
- You are worried about the intent and practically of the proposed review board – is this really addressing the issue? And is it the best and only way?
- You have a mixed ethnic heritage of Irish on your Mother’s side and Mexican on your Father’s side. You have grown up in a similarly mixed community, and identify as both White and Hispanic. You did not attend the party, but could have and had thought about it. You are more concerned with recent intimidation and hate speech by some local residents against Latin students off campus. Personally you see no difference between the party and how it is acceptable that everyone wears green and drinks whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day.
- Concerned with protecting mixed identity – and tired of not being considered Latino because of skin tone, etc.
- Also concerned review board would not consider the complexity of multiple identities and would exclude the concerns or thoughts of such students.
Professor of Cultural Studies
- You sits on the Student Life Committee and are responsible for creating the proposal under discussion. You are very interested in writing about the incident in your next book and see this as a testing ground for your theories. The proposal is based on your research on top-down administrative policies to socially engineer inclusivity or other desired traits within campus cultures. You have 20+ years of experience in Cultural Studies and Administration and are a tenured professor.
- The committee is feeling a lot of pressure from the President to resolve this issue quickly but not as radically as your propsoal (in order to protect the university image).
- You think that the proposal is a great way to ensure future events adhere to the university’s standards and values.
Senior Class Representative
- You have been at the University for four long fun but hard years. Every year the University provides generous funds for the graduating class to have one last giant hurrah in what is known as Senior Week. As a Class Representative is it your job to help oversee the official parties and you are also interested in attending the many private ones too.
- You are worried about having an unrestricted good time without cumbersome interference and oversight of private and semi-public parties during Senior Week.
- You did not attend the party and don’t see why should it affect everyone else. You see the proposal as unfair and an overstrech of administrative power into student’s private lives and rights.
- You are a veteran activist who has been involved in campus protests before. You have been closely following the course of hate speech incidents and stereotyping at other colleges and universities and believe that the party constituting a form of racist appropriation whether the students who hosted it were too privileged to realize it or not. You agree with the proposal to create an Event Review Board, especially since there have been other events on campus that have been culturally insensitive.
- You are concerned with how board members are selected – will it be inclusive enough and will students get a vote?
- You also firmly believe the students who threw the party should be reprimanded in a serious fashion.
How did everyone’s group discussion goal? Did your groups seem to coalesce around one particular view or were there more disagreements?
Did you find playing the roles you were given to be difficult? Especially if the identity and view you were given was different from your own?
How did it feel to change identities half way through the discussion? Did you find that challenging and did you gain any insights into other view points as a result?
Have any of you experienced any incidents or townhalls such as the one we role played today? In what ways did you find the experiences different or similar?
What do you think you have learned from this scenario and how do you think it could be applied to incidents and discussions about the complexity of bias, identity, and policy in real life?