LESSON: A SOCIOMETRY OF OPPRESSIONS
Used with permission by Susan Diane R.N., B.A., M.A.
Grade Level Context
Grades 10-12 The basic premise for this experiential educational
exercise came from Logan et al. (1996) who were
Learning educating social work students about heterosexual
Outcomes privilege. Although this educational tool still includes
-to introduce the sexual orientation/identity, it has been expanded to
concept of privilege, include gender, race/ethnicity, age, class, occupation,
oppression and its ability and religion. It is expanded here to give a sense of
affects on all the interconnections and complexity of identity within the
individuals multiple structures of oppression in a hierarchical,
capitalist, patriarchal society. Although the activity is
-to develop a better complex, students can gain a sense of these issues
understanding of through role-play and assuming another identity.
the complexity of
individuals within Preparation
our society ♦ Photocopy and cut identity cards (page 87). Adult
identities and youth identities (to use with secondary
-to increase students) are after the activities at the end of the
awareness and lesson.
understanding of ♦ Photocopy the Sociometry of Oppression Question
the meaning of sheet on page 91 to read out to the group.
power and control ♦ A fairly large open space is needed which often
necessitates moving furniture, or using a gym or hall.
-to gain a better ♦ A class of about 15-20 participants seem ideal, but it
understanding of can be used with smaller or larger numbers.
how and why our
♦ About half an hour is needed to complete the exercise
although this will vary depending on the amount of
the status quo
time it takes for debriefing each participant.
empathy for others
Explain that participants will be given an identity card and
asked to move forward one step (or its equivalent if there
are wheelchair participants) when answering affirmatively
to a series of questions. It is helpful to explain that
everyone will be taking the same amount of risk in
playing the game. If it seems the students may be
reluctant, try using a “fish bowl” technique, where some
students do the activity and others watch. (All the
students report on what they learned from the activity. It
does not work as well, but is one way to adapt this for
Hand out cards to each participant. Instruct them not to show
their cards to other participants. You may need to help some
participants individually if they have questions about their
identity card. If you have a small number of participants try to
pick identities so that you have a mix of sexual orientations,
genders, ethnic origins, religious denominations and abilities.
Have participants line up against a wall. Start with all
participants facing towards the wall. Ask those who can be
open about their sexuality to turn around and face forward. As
you read out the questions and the students move forward,
those with their face to the wall will walk backwards to step
ahead and those facing forward will walk forward.
Read out the questions regarding social and economic
privileges which are worded so that those who can participate in
the activity (e.g. take out a loan) can take a step forward. Those
who would not be able to do that in our society must remain
where they are. After reading out all the questions, and allowing
participants to move forward to various degrees, have
participants stay in their resulting positions of privilege when the
questions are finished.
Ask each one in turn to read out their identity and discuss what
the experience was like for him/her. You are actually debriefing
each participant, but others will usually join in the discussion as
this process continues. Be sure to have each and every student
discuss what the experience was like for her/him, to ensure they
can make sense of what they experienced. As in any
experiential activity, be prepared for the possibility of someoneʼs
personal experiences being triggered so that further debriefing
may be needed. Participants are asked to take on a pseudo-
identity (a type of role-playing), so this usually does not trigger
major personal revelations.
After each student has shared what it was like, discuss how
privilege works and how those with it can be successful, while
those without it find themselves falling behind in our society.
Talk about "double and triple oppressions.” This is when a
person has a number of interconnecting factors holding them
back (e.g. colour, gender and sexual orientation). Discuss the
reason this happens in our society. Why are groups
oppressed? What is the purpose of oppressing a group of
people? Whose needs does it serve? Is it acceptable? Legal?
Fair? Ethical? What can we do to change this?
How can we do it? Who is responsible for what is happening in
our society? What did we learn from this discussion?
1) Have the students write a journal about any of the questions
above that they are interested in.
2) Share with the students some historical examples of
oppression, such as Apartheid, the Holocaust, Black slavery
in the USA, Stonewall Riots and the continuing oppression
of gays and lesbians. Have them research a group of
people (or a specific person) and the oppression they have
suffered. Have them present their findings to the class.
White, male, bisexual Asian-Canadian female
artist (not famous yet) with nurse, who is bisexual and
18-year-old, white, single, a male partner. He also in a committed
heterosexual, female has a criminal record for relationship with a woman.
secretary, who is HIV+. possession of illicit drugs They are raising her
in the past. Currently he partnerʼs four Caucasian
is a practising Christian. children.
Stay-at-home, First Nations bisexual
heterosexual mother of female factory worker in a Male-to-Female
three children, with relationship with a white transgendered truck driver
"traditional values", whose man. She practices in a relationship with a
husband has a six-figure traditional native woman.
16-year-old high-school Separated single gay
student who is lesbian and white male who has
worker who is
is deaf. She uses sign custody of his 10-year-old
heterosexual and in a
language to communicate daughter and who works
and is a practising as an elementary school
with a male pimp. She is
addicted to heroin.
White heterosexual heterosexual female social Black heterosexual female
Christian male who is the worker who is married to a lawyer who is the only
CEO of a multinational Jamaican-Canadian man. woman and the only
corporation. He is married They have two children. person of colour working
with three children. She is a practicing Wiccan in a prominent firm.
female teacher who has
White 60-year-old lesbian
White single lesbian stay- raised her children and
who is a general medical
at-home mother of 2 small hasnʼt worked for the past
practitioner and suffers
children living on welfare. 15 years. Her husband
has left and he hid their
14-year-old Japanese- Gay Chinese-Canadian Indo-Canadian male
Canadian lesbian man who is raising a psychiatrist who is
Buddhist high-school disabled child with his heterosexual and a
student. partner. practicing Sikh.
15-year-old Hispanic- 17-year-old white 25-year-old black disabled
Canadian gay male high- heterosexual student, who female university student
school student who is a is a sports jock and very (uses a wheel chair) and
practising Catholic. popular in the school. is a practising Anglican.
Catholic Italian mother of
Closeted gay male Jewish three children who is a
lawyer who is married with recent immigrant to Svend Robinson
two children. He lives with Canada and does not famous Canadian
his wife but has sex with speak English. She is politician, white gay male,
his secret male lover of married and works in an partnered, Unitarian
several years. Italian bakery.
k.d. lang David Suzuki
famous Canadian singer, environmental activist
lesbian, vegetarian, heterosexual, married,
partnered, white Japanese-Canadian
18-year-old, black heterosexual student,
disabled female, using a who is a sports jock and
Canadian lesbian high
wheel chair and is a very popular in the
practicing Anglican. school.
16-year-old female who
16-year-old, high school 16-year-old first nations
works at the bakery to
student who is lesbian female student going out
help her immigrant
and deaf. She uses sign with a white male. She
family. She has been
language to practices traditional
raised catholic. Her mom
communicate. native spirituality.
speaks very little English.
19-year-old white 16-year-old white male 16-year-old gay male
heterosexual female who who lives with his mom. who is in the closet. He
is in a relationship with She has drug problems. dates girls and plays
an older Jamaican- He was recently beat up sports. He recently met a
Canadian man. by her boyfriend. guy he likes.
17-year-old female with a
one-year-old baby, living 19-year-old lesbian
female who is living on
at home. She is trying to female, who is a
the street. She is
finish her last year at practicing Wiccan (witch).
addicted to crack.
15-year-old white male 17-year-old white lesbian 19-year-old, vegetarian
who skips school most stay at home mom of two female rock musician, in
days and hangs out at small children living on lesbian relationship.
the mall. He is starting to welfare. She is studying Considers herself
do drugs. by distance education. bisexual.
Grade 12 student who is
16-year-old straight male Grade 10 female student
transgendered, M to F.
hippy that smokes dope who cares about the
Wants to wear dresses
openly and comes to environment and hassles
and make-up to school
school from an island. He others about eating meat,
and use the female
was home-schooled. etc.
Grade 12 student who is 17-year-old white 15-year-old white female
an out lesbian. Her depressed female who is student who is in a
friends are trying to find a questioning her sexuality violent relationship with
sponsor teacher to start a and has attempted an older man. She is
GSA in their high school. suicide 4 times. scared to tell anyone.
Grade 8 student with
Gothic dressed white Grade 8 white male
male student, who is in a student, skateboarder.
thinking of dropping out
relationship with a black He has a close group of
of school. Parents donʼt
female. His family deals friends both male and
really expect him to
with issues of poverty. female.
17, White heterosexual 16-year-old Cambodian Indo-Canadian female,
female whose father is female, ESL. Her family who is dating a white
rich. She skies in ignores her and she is male. Her family is
Whistler and stays in behind at school by 2 against the relationship.
their condo in Victoria on years. She is always by She is thinking of getting
weekends. herself and looks lonely. pregnant.
19-year-old, gay male 17-year-old First Nations
16-year-old white female,
who has a girlfriend but female. She is talented in
who had sex for the first
has sex with guys basketball and wants to
time last year. She has
secretly. His girlfriend play. Often late for
just found out she is
thinks they should get practice as she has to
married. look after her siblings.
Sociometry of Oppression Questions
These questions are asked once individuals have their pseudo-identity card
(which they are instructed not to show to others) and are lined up, facing a wall.
1. If you are free to be open about your sexuality with those close to you
(example out of the closet in most situations) please turn around and face
the center of the room?
2. Can you expect to speak openly and easily about your sexual orientation
and or gender identity at school or at work without fear of harassment or
3. Do you feel safe walking alone on the streets after dark?
4. Do you expect to be treated fairly by the police?
5. Do you expect that you and your body will be treated with respect and
dignity at school or work, without fear of harassment?
6. Can you go to the corner store on foot quickly and easily?
7. Can you walk by a group of teenagers without fear of insults or
8. Do you expect your children to attend school without discrimination or
9. Can you legally marry?
10. Do you expect to be financially well off and be able to travel during your
11. You are being considered for a promotion. Are you secure your personal
life or identity will not hinder you?
12. You are in a new social situation and you are asked if you are married. Are
you comfortable answering truthfully?
13. Are you comfortable bringing your partner to the school dance?
14. Do you expect to be able to get a large loan from the bank easily?
15. Would it be easy for you to introduce your partner to your family?
16. Do you think that your chances are good when you are interviewed by a
social worker to adopt a child?
17. Are you comfortable holding hands with your partner in public?
18. If you became sick with AIDS, would some people say you were an
innocent victim rather than you deserved it?
19. Can you expect to be a religious leader in your community?
20. Can you discuss your religious practices and holidays openly at work or
school without fear of harassment?
21. Can you communicate easily with others you have just met?
22. If your partner died, would you be automatically recognized as the next-of-
Diane, S. (1999). Amazing Graces: A Qualitative Study of Lesbian Helping
Professionals. Unpublished Masterʼs Thesis. The University of British Columbia,
Logan, J., Kershaw, S., Karban, K., Mills, S., Trotter, J., Sinclair, M. (1991).
Confronting Prejudice: Lesbian and Gay Issues in Social Work Education.
England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. (pp. 77-78).
Youth Identities developed by GALE BC (2004)