Friday, February 10, 2012

Social Class of Origin Narrative Experience

Will Barratt, Dan Boyle, Jason Bushnell, Melissa Michalek

Instructions to facilitator
We designed this experience for college students and it has been used effectively also with graduate students and non-college adults.  Students in a remedial college course experienced difficulty telling their own stories and hearing how they might have been different from other students' stories.  As with all participants gentle patience was effective in making this a positive experience for those challenged by it.

We recommend that if you are facilitating this with little experience in discussing social class that you read our examples.  However, for the experienced multicultural/social class professional, you may wish to include your own examples.

Learning goals for this experience include:
- Perceiving social class differences
- Awareness of self in contrast to others
- Increased comfort towards social class discussion

The format is designed for groups of four people and groups larger than five are not recommended because of time constraints.  We are intentionally leaving social class undefined because individuals will come to this exercise with their own experiences and lenses that help them define social class in their own way.

To help facilitate each person’s narrative provide the following list of topics for them to discuss.  This experience works best when the participants discuss all the topics.

Topics for display
In a visible spot in the room post the following:
     House and Home
     Recreation and Leisure
     Parental/Guardian Work
     Parental/Guardian Support
     Social Class Bubble
     Current Felt Social Class

Instructions to facilitator

This experience is designed to have each participant tell the story of their social class origin in order to generate conversation about personal social class. Each of you must decide how much self-disclosure you are comfortable with and no one will be pressured to share more than they wish.  However, participants will most likely get out of this experience what they put into it.

Each person should take three minutes to tell your story about as many of these six topics as possible.  These six topics include important parts of our social class narratives.  As you listen to other members of your group speaking please only ask clarifying questions so you don’t disturb the flow of the narrative.

Here are two example stories:

Parental work: “Throughout my childhood my father had a steady job that was able to support my mom and two siblings.  When I started college, my father’s jobs and paychecks became less consistent.  If I compare my family’s financial stability from when I was growing up to when I was in college there is a significant difference.  For instance, we would go on multiple vacations and gifts were plentiful on holidays before I started college.  Once I was in college family vacations were few and far between and gifts were on a tight budget.”  Melissa

Social Class Bubble:  “The undergraduate university I attended was literally a safe ‘bubble’ within a city filled with crime, violence, and poverty. Many students’ parents simply paid the obligatory $47,000 a year, gave the student a nice vehicle to drive, and told them to stay on campus and away from the city. Other students did take the chance to volunteer off campus, but I think that only highlighted the social class difference between the university and the surrounding community.” Jason

Now it is your turn to share your social class story focusing on each of the six topics.

I will let you know when three minutes are up so the next person can take a turn.

Instructions to facilitator
Small group reflection questions 

Once each participant’s narratives have been spoken there is a series of questions to stimulate reflection.

Reflection will happen in two stages; first in small groups then in the larger group.

Read the reflection questions below and allow time for each group member to answer each question.  After all of the questions have been asked and answered the discussion should move to the larger group.
Participants stay in their small groups.

After each person has answered the first question proceed to the second question, then to the third. Make sure that you allow for no more than two to three minutes for each question to be answered.  The short time is designed to create a desire for more conversation that will occur out of class or after this experience.

The first and second questions are about recognizing the emotional nature of our identities and our emotional responses to others’ stories.

The third question is designed to elicit responses that explore social class awareness and reflections on social class contrast as well as the variety of ways in which people can be in the same social class.


Each person should answer each of the three question truthfully and fully.  I will read them one at a time and give you each time to answer it, then I will read the second question.  Once each of you has  answered the three questions we will have each group report out what they discovered.

(Facilitator, read one question at a time and leave 3 minutes for small group discussion)

How did you feel when you told your story?

How did you feel when you were listening to other people’s stories?

What stood out for you in others’ stories that were different from your story?

Instructions to facilitator
Large group reflection questions

Participants should move their chairs so that they can participate in a large group discussion.  After all the groups have reported out on the first question proceed to the second question, then to the third.  Make sure that you allow for no more than two to three minutes for each question to be answered.  This is intended to ensure that they leave wanting more discussion and are more likely to continue the conversation after.


(Facilitator, read one question at a time and leave 3 minutes for small group discussion)

Someone from each group should report how your group answered each question.

What were the feelings in your group as you told your stories?

What was it like in your group listening to other people’s stories?

What were the things that stood out in your group as you heard other people’s stories?

Summary and Closing 
Remember that this experience is designed to move quickly and leave questions unanswered so that students will continue to engage issues of social class in their life and in the lives of those around them.  You many wish to close the experience by suggesting that they continue to reflect on social class in their life and continue to discuss social class.

Credits (edited 1/2017)
Will Barratt, Roi Et Rajabhat University
Dan Boyle, University of Toledo
Jason Bushnel, Baylor University
Melissa Michalek Magnusson, Central Washington University

keywords: experience exercise social class RA class personal student affairs college campus 

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