The diversity lesson
My nephew was wrapping up his degree in business, preparatory to raking in tons of money. (To their surprise, many business majors don't make it to that next stage.) He was chafing a bit because, for some unconscionable reason, even business majors were required by the university to take courses outside their major. “Mike Chamberlain” had reluctantly opted for a sociology class to fulfill his graduation requirements. He figured a passing grade would not be a great challenge. On this particular day, the professor seemed inspired even in the face of his students' apathy.
“Today I'll like to lead everyone through a visualization exercise.”
Huh? Some students felt their curiosity piqued. Mike rolled his eyes, a particularly favored exercise in his case.
“I want you to imagine a couple going out on a date. A first date. Imagine them in your head. Do you see them?”
A few nods. Mike rolled his eyes back the other way, perfecting his technique. No one could say he was wasting his education.
“Now I want each of you to imagine your own situation for the dating couple, but let's stir the pot a bit by offering some situations as grist for the mill.”
A big grin split Mike's face. He dearly loved mixed metaphors, although he supposed one could pour grist from the mill into the stirred pot. More cooperative students tossed out some ideas:
“Dinner and a movie!”
“A trip to the beach!”
“They go out for coffee.”
The professor beamed. “Those are all good ideas. Keeping thinking. Imagine how the evening progresses as the couple continues their date. I want you to assume that it's going well. Very well, in fact, okay?”
Mike has tired eyeballs by now, but several of his classmates have pensive expressions—dreamy even. Mike is perhaps the first to sense an impending gimmick, but others begin to notice that the professor is herding them toward a “teachable moment.”
“So, what are you thinking about now?”
Silence. He prods a bit.
“Can't you tell me? There aren't really any wrong answers. This was an exercise in free visualization.”
The silence continued a moment longer. Then one student ventured a tentative response.
“Well, you did say to imagine a date that was going really well, right?”
“That's right. So where did that lead your imagination?”
Several students were now grinning. One of the boys piped up.
“I imagined them in bed!”
“Hey, me too!”
Students began to laugh. So did the professor.
“Okay, okay,” said the professor. “I'm not really surprised by that. I did rather push you in that direction. How many people ended up with that thought in their heads?”
A large majority of the students raised their hands. The teachable moment had arrived, so the sociology professor delivered his coup:
“Okay, okay. Let me ask you: How many of you imagined a boy and girl on the date? You know, an opposite-sex couple?”
Almost all of the hands previously raised went back up, but some of them rose tentatively as students began to suspect it was the wrong answer.
“Okay, okay. Did anyone imagine a same-sex couple?”
The class was momentarily paralyzed. Eyes flicked about, wondering if perhaps someone would out him- or herself by admitting to imagining a same-sex couple in bed. My nephew casually raised his hand. Heads swiveled toward him. The professor seemed pleased.
“Ah, Mr. Chamberlain. You imagined a couple of the same sex?”
“Yeah, I was visualizing two girls together.”
The professor's face fell as students quickly smothered their laughs. A bold female sitting across the aisle from Mike flashed her teeth at him in a big grin.
“So, Mike, was it good for you?”
He grinned back at her.
“You should know. You were there!”
The girl blushed furiously as the professor tried to retrieve the point of his lesson. Apparently it had something to do with the dangers of falling too easily into stereotyped thinking. For the moment, though, it appeared that the danger was past.