Recognizing the Impact of Dominant Culture Privilege

Robin Jeffers, Bellevue Community College


This is a composition class in research writing. It is about how the study of place can reveal the presence or absence of dominant culture privilege; one element of which can be our cultural attitudes about sustainability.

This sequence of five assignments, starting with the study of texts, has students taking a look at the concept of dominant culture privilege and then moving them out into their own world to analyze what they're seeing there.

Learning Goals

Students will become familiar with varieties of academic writing and varieties of evidence. Writing assignments over the course of a term will contrast the formal requirements of the humanities style essay with, depending on the occasion/class focus, those of the social science research report; the informal seminar paper; and, the business case study. Depending on the assignment or class need, evidence for the writing will come from texts, statistical data generated by experts or generated by student functioning as researcher/"expert", or directed observation.


  • "Big Idea": Logic determines the structure of all academic writing-the logic being how we make claims, bring evidence to bear on those claims and then explain how the evidence validates the claims.
  • Students will demonstrates their understanding of the logic behind the assigned types of academic writing (humanities-style, scientific report, seminar paper)


  • "Big Idea": A study of place can reveal the presence or absence of dominant culture privilege, one element of which can be our cultural attitudes about sustainability.
  • Students will explain how dominant cultural privilege works via a topic of their own choosing.

Context for Use

This is basically a full quarter's worth of work in composition. There are no timeframe instructions for that reason.

Possible Use In Other Courses: sociology.

Description and Teaching Materials

Set-up: Textbook: Rothenberg, Paula S. White Privilege: Essential Readings on the other side of Racism.
New York: Worth Publishers, 2005.

Assignment 1:
Summarize relevant portions of two articles in White Privilege and synthesize them with the aim of defining "white privilege."
[Evidence not an issue; humanities-style writing]
Assignment 2:
Using census data for your zip code as evidence, answer the following questions: Does the census data for your zip code suggest that white privilege is operating where you live? If so, how? If not, why not?
[Evidence: statistics generated by experts; formal humanities style essay]
Assignment 3:
Visit four different Seattle/Bellevue locales, the International District (Asian/Asian-American-dominant), the Central Area (African-American dominant), Bellevue Square (White dominant), and Crossroads Mall (ethnically mixed). Walk the streets in the commercial area. Go into stores and look at what's for sale. Pay attention to how people respond to you-in the stores, on the street, in the mall public spaces. Also attend to color-who goes to or lives in these places? Does one color dominate? And how do you feel-do you fit in? Are you comfortable or out of your comfort zone?
Seminar Paper topic:
Use your experience in those places to examine how dominant culture privilege works.
[Evidence: personal experience; informal paper]
Assignment 4:
An observation study to look for patterns of social action relevant to your research question.
[Evidence: student-generated statistics; science research report]
Assignment 5:
Research paper on an issue related to White privilege
[Evidence: scholarly texts, including research report from "Assignment 5"; humanities-style paper]

Teaching Notes and Tips


Teacher's Evaluation Rubric (excerpt)

Self-Assessment: Evidence Sequence

Self Assessment: Evidence Sequence ( 145kB Nov14 11)


Print another copy of your paper. For each body paragraph

    • Underline the topic sentence
    • Label each intro of evidence 3a.
    • Label each piece of evidence 3b.
    • Label each explanation of evidence 3c.

Evaluation Questions (Answer these questions in writing)

    • Is each piece of evidence explained?
    • Is each evidence sequence clearly addressing the point made in the topic sentence?
    • Does the topic sentence account for all the evidence in the paragraph?
    • Does the concluding sentence explain the point of the paragraph better than the topic sentence does? (If it does, you'll want to use that as your topic sentence when you revise?

Teacher's Evaluation Rubric (excerpt)

Self-Assessment: Focus
The Skeletal Paragraph

Self Assessment: Focus- The Skeletal Paragraph ( 125kB Nov14 11)


On a separate piece of paper, copy the thesis statement and the topic sentences of all the body paragraphs, plus the main sentence from the conclusion in order, assembling them into a single paragraph. This process is really quick and easy in the word-processor—just copy and paste.

Evaluation Questions (Answer these questions in writing)

    1. Does each topic sentence clearly address the thesis (if not, why not?)
    2. Are any of the topic sentences out of logical order?
    3. Does the whole thing cohere? If so, underline the words that make it cohere.

Self-Assessment: Organization

Self Assessment: Organization ( 116kB Nov14 11)

Self-Assessment (Answer these questions in writing)

    1. What logic underlies the order of your body paragraphs?
    2. Have you said how the material in each topic sentence/paragraph relates to the material in the topic sentence that precedes it? If so, underline the part of the topic sentence that does that job.

Self-Assessments to Monitor Progress, Reflect on Strengths and Weaknesses

Assessment task for each major essay (based on self-assessment rubric from Glen Rogers, Alverno)

(At the beginning of the quarter, you're not able to do all of this. By the middle, you should be able to.)

  • You've talked about what you think you did well and what else you'd do on this assignment if you had more time. (How else would you try to improve your writing? By the way, doing more research is useful only on the research paper—Essay #3).
  • You've talked about what you learned by doing this assignment.
  • You've addressed how well you think you achieved the teacher's goals for the assignment (see essay assignment) if this is a formal essay.
  • The material that's the basis of this writing assignment—you've addressed how effectively you think your essay demonstrates your learning/understanding of it.
  • You've written about the revision technique you most recently learned in class—did you find it useful? If so, how? How did it change your paper? If not, why doesn't it seem useful to you.
  • You've addressed any other revision techniques introduced in class that you're currently using, and how they changed your paper. Have you internalized (you do it automatically, without thinking) any of the techniques?
  • You've bolstered all the claims you're now making with evidence from your essay.
  • You've addressed the goals you established for yourself in the last self-assessment—evaluating how useful the goals were and whether or not you met those goals.
  • You've tried not to over-simplify your self-assessment, but tried to acknowledge the complexity of the writing process.
  • Not necessarily on every assessment, but regularly, you remind yourself of the class's learning outcomes, and you try to gauge whether you've acquired those skills/abilities yet.

Assessment Task For End-Of-Term Portfolio

The portfolio assessment essay will receive full points if it

  • Uses academic analysis essay form and is a focused essay.
  • Provides evidence of analysis, both of and in your own writing
  • Explains for each piece of writing why it is included in the portfolio (what it illustrates about you as a writer—quote portions of the writing as evidence to validate your claims)
  • Considers whether your writing has changed, including your understanding of your writing process, problems, and successful strategies
  • Considers the value of self-assessment as a learning tool

Self-Assessments to Self-Correct Errors

Assessment Task


(Assignment for Early in Quarter)

You've received feedback on your last paper. Now answer the following questions:

  • Which of the identified weakness(es) do you want to work on in your next paper?
  • What concrete steps will you take to eliminate the weakness(es)?

(Assignment for Late in Quarter)

You've received feedback on your last paper. Now answer the following questions:

  • Which weakness(es) (teacher-identified or identified in your self-assessment essay) do you want to work on in your next paper?
  • What concrete steps will you take to eliminate the weakness(es)?

Training in Metacognition

Assessment Task

Thinking About Self Assessment

Week 1: Coming into class, what did you think about your ability as a writer? Did you have any sense of control over your ability to write a successful academic paper? If so, what things would you have said produced the successful paper? Even if you had no sense of control, what was your writing process before entering this class?

Week 3: What was your initial reaction to the idea of self-assessing? (Reminder—self-assessment #1 was for Seminar #1, and it was pretty basic. Look over what you wrote to jog your memory.)

Week 4: For the Academic Essay #1 self-assessment I handed out a longer self-assessment essay task. What did you think of the list in that task? Did it change your initial sense of self-assessment? (Here, again, you could look over what you wrote to jog your memory of how you felt when you were writing it.)

Week 5: Why do you think you're being asked to self-assess, and does it seem to be working? If so, how/why, and if not, why?

Week 7: You have been doing two types of self-assessment—specific tasks meant to point out areas of your paper that need to be revised (evidence sequence, skeletal paragraph, etc.) and the more general, overview of past and future work that you write when you turn in a 4-page paper. What is your reaction to the two types? Do you think one is more effective than the other? If so, why; if not, why not?

Week 8: Do you react any differently now to the self-assessment tasks than you did at the beginning of the quarter? Are you doing them only for the points? Do you have a different sense of what it takes to please the instructor (get full points, that is) than you did at the beginning of the quarter? Has that changed your attitude about the tasks at all? The usual "If so, why/if not, why not?" stuff applies here too.

Week 9: Over the course of this class did your sense of what you need to do to write a successful academic essay change? If so, how? Did your sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer of academic papers change? If so, how?

Week 10: Self-assessment is a technique you can use in any learning situation. Do you see yourself using it in the future? If so, why? If not, why not?

References and Resources