In that course, I assign some readings on a common topic and have them write two papers about them. Along the way, I give them guidance about research, planning, writing a draft, revisions and documentations. Then they can choose a topic, write a proposal and, after I approve the proposal--or after they revise it--they begin to write their papers. I can't remember rejecting a proposal outright; I usually ask students to focus their topics more or suggest things they might want to research within that topic.
What surprises (in a good way) and fascinates me is that about a third of my students want to write on some LGBT-related topic. Now, at that college where I'm teaching that class, my identity is known. I always tell the students that I don't want them to choose topics or say what they say to get in my good graces; I just want them to choose something that interests them and that's doable in the amount of time we have. But every one of those students insists that he or she has other reasons for wanting to write about LGBT-related topics. Two students are doing so because they're gay; three other students are writing about homophobia in Caribbean countries. (Interestingly, a Haitian-American and a Nigerian student are writing about the homophobia in Jamaica, while a Jamaican student plans to write about the phenomenon as it occurs in other Caribbean countries.)
While I'm happy to see them take on those topics, I wonder why a much greater portion of my students this semester than in previous semesters want to research and write about LGBT issues. Is there something in the water? ;-)