Image from rear of stadium seat lecture hall facing forward, photo by nikolayhg, pixabay CC

Jessica A. Cebulak and John F. Zipp. 2019. “Using Racial and Class Differences in Infant Mortality to Teach about White Privilege: A Cooperative Group Activity.” Teaching Sociology

White college students often struggle to understand, recognize, and learn about white privilege. Many students prefer a “color-blind” approach that denies racial inequalities altogether. Although there are other teaching strategies that try to overcome this, too many simply shift the conversation to inequalities in social class. These strategies fail to address the complicated relationship between race and class. As a result, students struggle to understand, for instance, why affluent, well-educated Black women still have higher infant mortality in the United States than low income, poorly educated white women.

Recent experimental research by Jessica Cebulak and John Zipp tests a new method for teaching about white privilege. The researchers designed an intervention to find out whether exposure to white privilege instruction through cooperative learning, group exercises increases understanding of white privilege for everyone. Then, they brought their intervention to the classroom, providing students with two days of videos, targeted instruction, and small group discussion on race and white privilege, followed by a semester-long cooperative learning group activity. To see whether the intervention was effective, the researchers tested students’ racial attitudes at the beginning and at the end of the semester.

The key finding of their study is that white students’ awareness of white privilege and understanding of racial inequality increased when they were taught in a mixed-race, cooperative learning setting. Students of color also had significantly greater understanding of the concept of white privilege after the intervention, though experienced stressful emotions when working in groups with white students. Instructors need to consider whether the potential benefits outweigh the potential impact and emotional stress these types of interactions have on students of color.