Sociology Mind
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 333-338
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 333
First You Stand out, then You Stand up: Becoming an Ally
for the LGBT Community
Manpreet Dhillon, Jerome Rabow, Jennifer Moore, Yvette Meza Vega
University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Received July 21st, 2013; revi sed A ugust 30th, 2013; accepted Sept ember 12th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Manpreet Dhillon et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cite d.
This paper addresses one of the ways that counselors and teachers in schools can address the homo-
prejudices and homophobia that many of their heterosexual students have towards the LGBT community.
We describe a classroom exercise that allows heterosexual students to achieve understanding and empathy
and stand up for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community. This exercise was ad-
ministered to university students in an upper division course who were given the choice of volunteering to
wear a Pink Triangle pin for one week. The Pink Triangle, originally worn by gays during the World War
two Holocaust, has become a symbol of gay liberation. The students recorded their experiences and feel-
ings throughout the course of their pin-wearing. Results for this blue-collar, mostly female and non-white
population, indicate key shifts in understanding oppressions that queer youth face every day. In addition
to their increased awareness, students committed to become allies by taking action to fight for social jus-
tice. A description of the educational assignment is provided so that counselors, teachers, and other edu-
cators can elect to increase the understanding of their heterosexual students and to create a safe space for
the dialogue between all students, regardless of their identities.
Keywords: LGBT Community; Homophobia; Pink Triangle; Social Justice
Americans, who are believers and advocates of gay marriage,
await with hope, that the upcoming Supreme Court decision in
June of 2013 will support the legitimacy of gay marriage.
However, those who have been on the ground struggling with
day-to-day discrimination and bullying, know that, even with
new legislation, harassment, invectives, slurs, and bashing of
the LGBT community will continue. Inspite of the “inevitabil-
ity” of widespread acceptance of gay marriage by the majority
of our citizenry (Klarman, 2012), this paper argues that it is the
day-to-day interactions that need to be addressed for homopho-
bia and oppression to be reduced. While legislation is important,
it is equally important to change the hearts and minds of indi-
In this paper, we propose the use of the Pink Triangle as a
way to educate and recruit allies in the LGBT struggle for jus-
tice. It is our belief, based on the research cited here, that the
use of this educational endeavor will increase awareness and
understanding amongst heterosexual youth and will promote
safe and inclusive environments for queer and transgender you th
by reducing homophobia and oppression. Discrimination of LGB T
youth varies over the life cycle, but also faces rejection and
isolation from their parents and peers. In one survey of young
males, only 12 percent felt confident they could befriend a gay
person (Marsiglio, 1993), while a more recent survey reported
that 75% of LGBT youth have experienced discri minati on ( M a ys
& Cochran, 2001). Our paper specifically addresses how the
rejection, isolation, and oppression received by LGBT youth
can be transformed into understanding, empathy, and the de-
velopment of allies. The paper is recommended to all high
school as well as college educators.
The Pink Triangle was first used by Nazi Germany to iden-
tify homosexuals in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Just as the yellow Star of David was used to mark Jewish pris-
oners (and non-prisoners), the pink triangle was used to mark
homosexuals and sex offenders. Gay individuals were deemed
as “undesirable” by the Nazis, along with Jews, Roma, people
of color, the disabled, and other non-Christian minorities. La-
beling prisoners in concentration camps through different col-
ored symbols allowed the Nazis to create a hierarchy where
homosexuals ranked the lowest, just below the Jews. They re-
ceived the worst treatment and were often beaten, tortured, and
killed in brutal manners. Even after liberation of the camps,
homosexual acts and relations were punishable crimes. Homo-
sexual men were viewed as a threat because they would reduce
the capacity to wage war and purify the German race1.
The Pink Triangle was reclaimed in the 1970s by gay libera-
tion groups to draw attention to the oppression and persecution
of the LGBT community. The symbol gained popularity in the
1980s when the AIDS advocacy organization, ACT UP, used it
as a symbol to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Their
1For more information on the use of different colored triangles used by the
Germans to identify prisoners see
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
campaign included a picture of the inverted pink triangle and
the slogan “Silence = Death”2. The organization drew com-
parisons between the brutal death sentences issued by the Nazis
to the silencing of information about AIDS/HIV by the gov-
ernment that caused thousands of deaths. The Pink Triangle is
now embraced by the LGBT community as a symbol of politi-
cal consciousness and historical memory of the Nazi persecu-
tion of gays and lesbians. The symbol has mobilized and raised
awareness against contemporary oppression of the LGBT com-
munity (Jensen, 2002).
The Pink Triangle exercise was first used by Chesler and
Zuniga (1991) in a classroom as a way of teaching students
how to resolve conflict by wearing the pin for a period of 24
Rabow, Stein and Conley (1999) asked students to volunteer
wearing the pin for one week. In papers analyzed according to
Helm’s (1990) theory of identity and Goffman’s (1964) work
on stigma students advanced through different stages of identity
development and moved toward more open and positive ways
of thinking about their LGBT peers and community. Milman
and Rabow (2006) extended the period to five weeks of pin-
wearing and reported that the longer the pin wearing, the gre ate r
the impact on the “self” and on the understanding of gays and
lesbians. This paper uses the same methodology (Rabow, Stein,
& Conley, 1999; Milman & Rabow, 2006) but is done with a
radically differe n t samp le.
We first describe the educational effort and then more fully
in the Appendix, provide directions on how to administer the
triangle to your classes or campus and account for those who
elect not to wear the pin.
19 students (F = 16, M = 3) out of 21 in an upper division
course at a public university wore the pink triangle for one
week. The sample consisted of a very small percentage of
White students, was mostly blue collar Latina/os seniors who
strongly identified as being religious, specifically Catholic. The
age range was from 19 to 23 years with one older female age 50
and male age 41. These students, as well as the two who elected
not to wear the pin, received extra credit for writing a paper on
their experience with the pin.
The triangle that students wore was made of pink Styrofoam
with a rainbow ribbon glued across it to insure that people
would see the triangle as a symbol of gay rights. These were
homemade by the instructors prior to the class.
Students were presented with the option of wearing a Pink
Triangle pin for the length of one week. Assigned as an extra
credit assignment, students were asked to record their daily
experiences and feelings while wearing the pin. Students who
elected not to wear the pin were also given the opportunity to
receive extra credit by recording how they felt not participating
in the assignment. To receive extra credit, students were re-
quired to write a final paper which asked them to address their
experiences with pin-wearing (see Appendix I for more details).
The papers were analyzed according to a set of categories de-
veloped from reading of their work which we have classified
into four categories: choice of wearing or non-wearing, what
the students learned about themselves, how they came to under-
stand what a safe and inclusive environment means for LGBT
youth, and finally their commitments to social action that would
achieve social justice for the LGBT community.
Electing to Wear the Pin
Most of the students were hesitant, anxious and fearful about
pin-wearing, being concerned with family, friends and co-
workers. While all students, except one, elected to wear the pin,
pin-wearers did not wear this pin all day long and made deci-
sions of when and in front of whom to wear the pin. A hetero-
sexual female expressed her apprehe n sion as follows:
“Because I am in such close quarters with children and
their parents I chose not to wear the pink triangle. I did
not want to have to answer any questions or offend any-
one. Thinking back now I wish I would have worn it. I re-
alized that my agency may not have cared. They pride
themselves on being non-discriminating. I decided to not
wear the pin because it scared me to look at it on myself. I
was fearful of other people’s reactions.”
Unsure of how family members would react to this symbol
of equality, some students opted to not wear the pin at home,
while others stepped up to the challenge even though they knew
the pin might cause disagreements. A Latina female student
describes her experience of wearing the pin to pick up her par-
ents from the airport.
“My parents didn’t say anything about the pin until they
started noticing how people were just staring at me. Peo-
ple would look at me with disgust. I could feel the eyes on
me, and the sad thing was that they were looking at me
like I was a piece of S***. My family noticed how people
were looking at me and my dad said very angrily, ‘Take
that sh*** off!’ My little brother asked me why I was
wearing the pin and I told him I would explain to him
when he was older. I didn’t want to take it off at first but
the worried and disappointed looks on my parents’ faces
made me feel bad. My parent’s reactions hurt more than
the public’s reactions. It was there at the airport when I
thought about how horrible gay people feel when the pub-
lic stares at you like you are a piece of sh***.
Please excuse my language but that is how I can best de-
scribe how I felt.”
The Latina student later tried explaining the meaning behind
the Pink Triangle to her parents and why she was wearing it.
Her father simply shut her out every time she tried talking to
him about it. She was unable to resolve these issues with her
“To this day my dad hasn’t spoken to me and this really
hurts me because I am trying to do something good but
my dad doesn’t realize it and doesn’t want to accept it.
My parents and boyfriend mean a lot to me so their reac-
tions had a tremendous impact on me emotionally. The
people that matter the most to me did not support or agree
2A documentar y, “How to Su rvive a Plagu e” focuses on the use of th e Pink
Triangle as a symbol to raise awareness about the AIDS/HIV epidemic.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 335
with my decisions which hurt me the most. I feel emo-
tionally drained.”
Electing to wear the pin was not only a difficult decision for
heterosexual students but also for the lesbian student in our
class. This Latina student did not reveal her sexual orientation
until the pin wearing began and described her experience as, “I
must admit that wearing the pink triangle had its bittersweet
moments. At times I felt extremely proud but at other times I
wanted to find a c orner and hide.”
What They Learned about Themselves and Others
There was self-learning and learning about others through
pin-wearing. Sometimes one dimension was more important
than the other. In the following excerpt, an Iranian male, indi-
cates his understanding of the burdens placed upon the gay
“The pink triangle experience showed me the burden so-
ciety places on gay women and men and the thick skin
you must wear to protect yourself… I felt alone and help-
less, constantly keeping my guard up in order to fight off
any unwanted attention. There would be so many in-
stances where I could feel the actual weight of the pin,
becoming heavier and heavier as the judging eyes multi-
In this second excerpt, a student, despite her fears, discovers
that by standing up to her manager, she now sees herself dif-
“That day after work I was really proud of myself for
wearing the pin to work, I felt like I had accomplished
something by standing up for what I believe in. It was
hard to hear what my manager and co-worker had to say
about homosexuals but it made me realize that gay people
don’t have it easy and I can now somehow understand
how hard it might be for them to come out. I felt that he
[manager] saw me differently because I supported a cause
he is against... I have now gained so much more respect
for the LGBT community and I have now felt their pain
and their struggles.”
Negative experiences also occurred in public arenas. A L ati na
female goes to In-N-Out, a fast food restaurant, with her boy-
friend. She comes to recognize the privilege of heterosexuality.
“Upon arriving I noticed a lot of people staring at me in-
cluding employees. Their eyes went immediately to the
pin and then to my face. I could tell that they were ques-
tioning whether I was a supporter of gay rights or whether
I was myself gay. Their expressions became even more
puzzled when my boyfriend approached me after leaving
the bathroom. He walked over and gave me a kiss. At this
exact moment I saw one of the employees stop what he
was doing with the fries to look over at me. His eyes got
bigger and his mouth dropped. My boyfriend asked, ‘Why
is everyone staring at you?’ I answered ‘I don’t know.
Let’s go elsewhere to eat’. This incident showed me how I
really am part of a dominant group. I always took for
granted being able kiss or hold hands with my boyfriend
in public”.
In this next excerpt, a Latina student discovers the important
role of silence in perpetuating discrimination and she loses her
fear of speaking out.
“This experience was a test for me. Was I willing to sup-
port something which might receive resistance? It’s so
easy to be that person that supports a cause silently. But
it’s not easy to support something out loud because you
leave yourself vulnerable to getting hurt…now after wear-
ing the pin I know that I don’t care if others think I’m
In this final excerpt, a male who had looked up to and ad-
mired his grandmother is crushed when his grandmother ex-
presses disdain for his pin wearing. The student captures the
adulation for his grandmother that he felt as a youngster and the
challenge of questioning adult authority.
“It shattered me to see someone [grandmother] I looked
up to so fondly as a child demonstrate such ignorance. On
one hand I felt broken, and on the other hand I felt an op-
portunity had presented itself, the opportunity to question
the origin of my deepest roots. The most important lesson
this experiment taught me was to question everything and
to own the patterns in my life, to not simply adopt them
but to create my own. I took pride in writing about this
experience because its impact was far greater than any-
thing I could have imagined...”
Awareness of the discrimination and suffering of others fre-
quently moved students to think about how they could be in-
volved in creating a safer and more inclusive environment.
How They Cr e a t e Safe and Inc lu s i v e Environm ents
One pin-wearer opened up communication with her sister
that had never existed before. “The most powerful mo-
ment I had with the pink triangle was talking openly with
my sister about sexuality on the third day of wearing the
pin. Prior to her seeing the triangle she knew that I sup-
ported the LGBT community, but I don’t think she knew
to what extent. When I asked her what she thought about
my wearing the pink triangle, she was excited…She told
me that she is attracted to both males and females with
certain features. I was so happy that she told me this; she
never expressed her attraction to females before…I value
my relationship with my sister so much; to know a dif-
ferent part of her, a side of her that I’ve never known, just
made me feel so wonderful on the inside. To think that
this was made possible because of this class assignment, I
just get emotional thinking about it…had I not worn it, I
may not have known her sexuality.”
A conversation one student had with her brother, after he
came out to their family the night before, also creates closer
sibling relations.
“My brother looked at me and he said, ‘is that what I
think it is?’ I asked him, ‘what do think this pin is say-
ing?’ He said to me, ‘Do you support the gay commu-
nity?’ I said, yes. He wanted to cry and he gave me a hug.
I was happy to see him react the way he did.”
A student whose uncle is gay, but was always ignored by the
family, discovers that his pin wearing created closeness with
one family member while pushing another one away.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
“My mother asked me about what the pink triangle...I was
scared there would be a reaction that would not be grati-
fying. Regardless, I told my mom that it was a pin I had
decided to wear because I wanted to support gay rights.
My Uncle P [homosexual uncle] looked at me with smil-
ing eyes that make me tear up when I think back upon
it…My mom replied in Farsi with a puzzled face, ‘That’s
sweet, since when?’ I replied, ‘Since always,’…my mom
left for the bathroom soon after and it gave my Uncle a
chance to speak freely without the tension of my mom’s
presence. He said to me, ‘You have a good heart; my
cousin (referring to my mom) raised a good man.’ It
meant the world to me and I knew it was only the begin-
ning of my journey.”
A Latina student counselor felt that she knew her counselee
very well because she had been working with her counselee for
two years discovered a new comfortable space for them to talk.
“She began to express that she was having a difficult time
with her math class. I asked her if there was anybody that
she knew that could help her with the class. She said, ‘My
ex-girlfriend can help me.’ I was in complete shock not
because she was bisexual or a lesbian, but the fact that she
felt comfortable enough to express those words. I have
never ever for the two years that I have worked as a
counselor had students open up about their sexuality…I
was happy that the pin spoke to the student on how I was
on their (her?) side and with no judgment. I considered
this moment the most memorable because I felt like I
made an impact on a person to feel free to speak about
their sexua lity.”
In another public space incident, pin wearing resulted in an
employee expressing his appreciation for seeing an ally. While
shopping at a makeup store, our student was asked about and
explained what the Pink Triangle symbolized.
“By the time I was done explaining this to him, he had a
huge smile on his face and his eyes were glimmering with
unshed tears. He told me that he was gay and had just re-
cently come out to his family. He said that throughout his
entire life he had never seen someone walk around with
their opinions blatantly pinned to their chest. He gave me
a huge hug, and told me that people like me are very
unique and definitely rare. He then went on to say that I
had not only made his day, but also his year, because he
felt like no one he knew in his life was fighting for equal
rights as much as he was.”
The inspiration that the employee felt for discovering that
som eone in hi s life was fighting for eq ual rights w as a lso so me-
thing that our students learned about pin-wearing.
Standing up: C al l to Action
Many of our students strongly expressed the importance of
speaking out. One student expressed her awareness as follows,
“I know it’s my duty as a person living in society to educate
others, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for them-
selves.” Another student, a Filipino male, expressed his in-
creased sense of responsibility for education in the struggle for
“Our voices cannot be heard if we do not speak up. One
does not have to be politically active, educationally afflu-
ent, or wealthy to pass knowledge about what is really
going on in the world and our communities. This experi-
ence has shown me that a simple pin on your jacket can
trigger great positive reactions from people but it can also
trigger the most negative reactions, the important thing is
that I was able to pull that trigger.”
A Latina student reports a strong sense of empowerment.
“I learned to stand up for what I believe in and not give a
damn what others think of me or the consequences that
might come with it. After this I felt like I can do anything
I put my mind to it and be able to speak up...In the end
this experience has been life changing for me and has
made me see the world in a totally different perspective. I
have learned so much about myself and has opened my
eyes even more to the LGBT community.”
Finally, an Armenian student looks into the future and de-
scribes the kind of family she wants her newborn to grow up in
as well as the kind of world she would like to be a part of.
“The pink triangle experience impacted both my life, and
the lives of my children...I want to pin it on my newborn
once she’s out of the womb and post it on Facebook. I
want everyone to see that I am not ashamed, and that I
want my babies to be supporters of gay and lesbian rights.
I would like to see the reactions of people, and most im-
portantly, when she grows up I would like to talk to her
and tell her that she was a part of a very important educa-
tional experience I had done for class.”
After handing in her paper, this student forwarded a picture
of her new born with a pink triangle on her shirt.
This paper has focused on the reactions of heterosexual stu-
dents to wearing a symbol of gay rights, their increased under-
standing of discrimination, and their sense of responsibility for
creating a fair and just environment for members of the LGBT
community. The student mentioned earlier who not only ex-
pressed her anxiety about wearing the pin but also did not re-
veal her sexual orientation until the pin wearing began, was
surprised with what she was able to gain from this experience.
Her responses, as a lesbian woman, are equally important for
understanding how heterosexual students can become suppor-
tive and allies in her struggle.
“Before this experience I thought that I was content and
proud with my sexuality but this proved to me that I still
have a long way to go…I have to have pride and make others
see that my orientation is just a really small fragment of who
I am…This experience was special to me as well since I,
myself, am a member of the gay community and felt thrilled
to stand up for what I believe in.”
The resistance and fears that our gay student had were as
great as the fears that this mostly religiously conservative group
of students brought to the classroom. The educator who elects
to use this experience needs to believe that learning about the
self and the other is a critical educational endeavor. Those who
elect to use this exercise must bring neutrality, patience and
understanding to the fears that most have about open-dialogue
and inclusiveness.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 337
The experiences read from our students are similar to the
experiences we have heard over the years when we have em-
ployed this educational endeavor. When pin-wearing was an
assignment for very liberal, sophisticated students, affluent
students, and diverse classrooms, the results you have read
were quiet similar. Through the wearing of the Pink Triangle,
students challenged themselves to think more critically about
their own and other’s view s a n d b ia s e s .
They adopted a deeper understanding of the daily discrimina-
tion faced by the LGBT community, discovered ways to create
safer and more inclusive environments for LGBT youth, and
learned the importance of standing up for social justice.
This case study is part of a larger movement in higher educa-
tion that has been referred to as transformative pedagogy. This
pedagogy emphasizes the value and significance of transform-
ing the identities that students bring to the classroom situation.
These identities involve different degrees of domination and
subordinations. The most frequently cited identities refer to
race, gender and sexual orientation. The key work here in psy-
chology is by Mezirow (1991; 2000) and others including
Cranton (1994; 2002) and Taylor (2007). Key work has also
been done in social psychology on White faculty identities
(Chesler & Young, 2013) and on student racial iden tities ( Rab ow,
Venieris, & Dhillon, 2014).
The assignment may seem foreign and alien to teachers and
counselors, but we believe that if you trust your students and
allow them to risk learning about themselves and others, you
will be opening up a space for the students in your school and
your classroom where all of the misinformation, judgment,
discriminations, and prejudices can be examined. Counselors
and teachers are especially important in carrying out this mis-
sion as they can practice a non-judgmental, supportive and i n c l u-
sive environment that allows students to explore their fears
about becoming open- m i nd e d a nd accepting.
We recognize that this paper does not include steps to explic-
itly address the “B” or the “T” in LGBT. However, the process
of transforming identities outlined by Helms (1992) and How-
ard (2006), can be applied to any identities including the “B”,
“T” or “Q”. Furthermore, the basic process of empathy, which
our students achieved in this paper, is similar to the process of
other identity transformations. Introducing the idea of walking
in the shoes of another requires that instructors allow for choice
without judgment, and allow for processing of the exercise after
its completion. This is where instructors can help participants
see other identities that have been treated with discrimination.
This processing must also take place inside the classroom
through the sharing and learning about the experiences of other
classmates and not just in the final paper assignments students.
Regardless of the possible oppositions to this education en-
deavor, it is our hope that this paper can contribute to the ef-
forts of educators and that they will be able to achieve what one
student expressed—“… gay is just a word, pink is just a color,
a rainbow is just refracted light, but it all means so much
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Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Appendix I
Pink Triangle Educational Exercise: Developed by Pro-
fessor Jerome Rabow, UCLA, CSUN In the exercise described
below, your students are being asked to wear the pink triangle.
The purpose of this classroom exercise is to have students
identify with a stigmatized “other” to experience a reality that is
mostly unknown to heterosexuals and to discover what their
own deeper attitudes and feelings might be towards the LGBT
community. The exercise challenges the self-perception of stu-
dents who consider themselves “liberal” and supporters of gay
rights and even advocates for LGBT rights. It is important that
students be allowed to opt out of this exercise. They still can
gain knowledge from other students by being exposed to their
experiences of pin wearing.
For this exercise, you can ask students to make their own
pink triangles in class or you can make them for students out of
thick, pink construction paper. Preparing the triangle before
class saves time, allowing them to make it helps demystify the
pin. They should be of sufficient size as to be easily visible.
The assignment for those who elect to not wear the pin involves
partnering up with someone who is wearing the symbols and
speaking to them daily about their experiences. It is also sug-
gested that students all put on the pin in class together at the
same time and remove them at the same time. Different types of
written assignments can be developed. On the day pins are
removed, we have found it useful to have all students talk about
the most critical, the most awkward, the most difficult, and the
most satisfying experience during their pin-wearing. It is also
important to have students talk about the impact that the pin-
wearing had on the “self”.
Writing assignments for pin-wearers and non-wearers could
include the following:
For Pin-Wearers
1) Describe the most powerful moment/incident in your week
of wearing the pink. Explain who, what, when, where, and most
importantly, how you were feeling.
2) What was most difficult for you while wearing the pink?
3) What was most rewarding for you during this time?
4) What was the impact that this entire experience had on
5) Are you glad t h at you made this choice to wear the pin?
6) What did you learn about yourself?
For Non-Pin Wearers
1) What did you learn about the other (your pin-wearing
2) What did you learn about yourself?
3) What was most challenging in talking to the other?
4) What was most rewarding in talking to the other?
5) Do you have any regrets about your choice?
6) What was the impact of listening to your classmates share
their experience?