Reducing Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia in College Students by Completing a Psychology of Prejudice Course

By Pettijohn, Terry F., II; Walzer, Amy S. | College Student Journal, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Reducing Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia in College Students by Completing a Psychology of Prejudice Course


Pettijohn, Terry F., II, Walzer, Amy S., College Student Journal


Students enrolled in Psychology of Prejudice and Introductory Psychology courses completed measures of racism, sexism, and attitudes toward homosexuals at the beginning and end of the term. We predicted that those who took part in the Psychology of Prejudice class would have significantly reduced prejudice as a result of the course experience. We also predicted that the Introductory Psychology students would show a minimal decrease in prejudice. As predicted, students in the prejudice class showed significant decreases in prejudice, while the introductory psychology students did not. Course involvement was related to greater prejudice reduction in two prejudice areas, but course grade was not related to prejudice reduction. We discuss the implications for prejudice reduction through class activities and education.

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Prejudice is a serious issue that has perpetually faced humankind. Allport (1979) defined prejudice as a "feeling, favorable or unfavorable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not based on, actual experience" (p. 6). Prejudice is unusually negative and causes individuals to form preconceived notions of groups, assuming that all group members are the same. People's perceptions of others are filtered through their previous experiences and attitudes. Therefore, it is important to consider the outgroup as well as the individual when studying prejudice.

Psychologists have studied the causes and consequences of prejudice and have developed effective prejudice reduction techniques based on education and experience. School-based interventions have shown that talking about race and racial attitudes and focusing on internal attributions instead of race can reduce prejudice (Aboud & Fenwick, 1999). Cognition, affect, and behavior all play a role in students transferring what they learn in the classroom to the real world, and students can find ways to reduce prejudice on an interpersonal level (Harris, 2003). Multicultural education and diversity appreciation training has been effective in reducing prejudice among counseling trainees (Kiselica, Maben & Locke, 1999). Students who took part in a prejudice and conflict seminar had significantly lower anti-Black attitudes when compared with other students who had not taken the seminar (Rudman & Ashmore, 2001). In college, attitudes toward homosexuals improved with the amount of college education (Schellenberg, Hirt, & Sears, 1999) and students who completed a diversity course reported less racism and greater intergroup tolerance than those who did not take the course (Hogan & Mallott, 2005).

Individual-oriented techniques have been found to reduce contemporary prejudice. These techniques help individuals recognize the contradictions in their own personality and behavior, and therefore, become more tolerant of people of different groups. Intergroup approaches also help prejudiced people to realize that individuals comprising different groups are not homogeneous and begin to realize that each group is as assorted and diverse as their own. Recognizing the foundation of prejudice helps to reduce prejudice through intervention techniques (Dovidio & Gaertnet, 1999). Along these same lines, forcing people to be aware of their hypocrisy seems to be effective in reducing prejudice. Making people feel guilty and uncomfortable with their racism has been found to reduce aversive racists' prejudice towards Asians, although the hypocrisy technique did not seem to be as effective for those who were considered to be low in prejudice (Son Hing, Li, & Zanna, 2002).

Research shows that ingroup prejudice can be reduced through educational programs dealing with diversity. We were interested in the effects Psychology of Prejudice and Introductory Psychology courses have on racism, sexism, and homosexual attitudes in college students. In addition, we were interested in the relations between course outcomes, course involvement and prejudice reduction. …

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