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A lesson in stereotypes
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Monroe social psychology teacher Sarah Domres listens to a group of seniors talk about their experiences after a class project field trip Friday in Madison. Students took on such roles as homeless people, gang members and pregnant teens to see how they would be treated by others.
MONROE - Monroe High School students learned firsthand why it's important not to judge someone by how they look.

The 57 seniors in Sarah Domres' social psychology classes spent Friday at two shopping malls in Madison dressed in costumes. Some were dressed in all black, some as gang members, some as pregnant teens, some as homeless people and one student even was dressed as a "skinhead," complete with a Swastika on his neck. Their goal was to observe how they were treated by mall employees and shoppers.

"They were able to see if they were treated differently because of the way they dressed," Domres said. "It gives them a new perspective."

Domres teaches a class about stereotypes and discrimination. The field trip fit in well with what the students have learned in class, she said.

The students learned that people are judged by how they dress and how they look.

Mack Brunker wore all back to the mall. He said there were some parents who held onto their children as he and his fellow students walked by.

"We walked by one lady and she looked really scared," he said. "People pulled their kids away."

He said he overheard one woman say, "I hope my kids don't turn out like that." She didn't think he heard her, he said, but he did.

"People didn't respect me because of the way I looked," he said.

Domres explained to the students that people do sometimes hear what others say under their breath. The person talking might not realize it, however. She told them that things they say could be hurtful without them ever knowing it.

Abby Kennison, who pretended to be schizophrenic, talked to an invisible friend while she shopped. She said she had trouble getting people to wait on her at the stores and later learned that one of the employees who did wait on her made fun of her after she left the store.

The students told their classmates about their experiences at the malls and those who spoke told about the looks they received from other people.

"It was a reality check," Lauren Baker said. "People do judge you by how you look."

Brunker said the experience taught him that it's important to look beyond what a person is wearing or how they look.

Domres said she hopes the students learned something from the experiment. People tend to make quick decisions about someone without getting to know them.

"Some of the kids said they learned to be careful what they say and what they think," she said. "I think the trip was worth it."