Monday, June 27, 2016

Starbursts and Class Stratification

And we're off! The Brown cohort of 2016 has finally made it to the beloved Women and Leadership class in one piece, thanks to Ivy League Connection. 

I woke up this morning bright and early at 7:30 AM, then headed down to the Ratty. I couldn't find anyone I knew and wound up being invited to someone's table. The gracious stranger was named Sophia and was taking the Leadership and Global Engagement course. We talked a bit about where we were from and about the classes we were anticipating, and then I walked to class.

I don't think I've ever enjoyed a class as much as I did today. During the first half of class, we introduced ourselves, shared out about what we expected to gain from the class, went over the class syllabus, and then paired up with another classmate to analyze a collection of printed photos. These images were all related to intersectional feminism in some way: many of them touched upon gender roles (in either opposition or agreement to them), and one even depicted a prime example of white feminism. My partner in the task of evaluating the photos was a girl named Sara, who is currently living in Spain. She and I shared many views and connected easily throughout the duration of the class.

After the end of the activity we shared out to the class what we had concluded. Although there were plenty of people who agreed and built off of others' opinions, I was introduced to different and compelling perspectives. 

We had a lunch break from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM. Komal, Krystal, Sara, a person called Lauren, and I decided to head over to the Verney-Woolley (also affectionately known as V-Dub) dining hall and see how it compared to the Ratty. The V-Dub eating space was smaller, but much more aesthetically pleasing, than the Ratty. We ate and chatted outside at the picnic tables before heading back to class.

When we arrived, the desk and chair arrangement was completely different. We sat down randomly at one of the three circular tables, and then after explicit instruction, we opened the color-marked envelope in front of us.
From back left to back right: Lynda, Komal, Krystal, Sara, me, Lauren, and Bailey.

The activity we were about to participate in was called Starpower. Each envelope we were given carried five "randomly" selected Starburst candies in them. The goal of the game was to trade the candies, which were all worth a different amount of points, and accumulate as many as we could. The point system granted ten points to fruit punch Starbursts, five points to red Starbursts, four points to orange Starbursts, two points to pink Starbursts, and one point to yellow Starbursts. We also had restrictions that impacted our ability to trade: we could not talk unless we were trading, we had to be touching in order to trade, we could only trade one candy for another, and we had to follow through with a trade of some sort after initiating contact. 

After the first round, everyone was reorganized into different groups according to their collected points. The majority of us had relatively few points and were placed in the Square group, while the small minority of those with relatively many points were placed in the Triangle group. The rest were in the Circle group.

Before the second round we were handed another envelope of candies and told to count our points. When said round had ended, a few had jumped up or down a group, but the majority remained in their seats. 

Before the third round, the Triangles were given the chance to change the rules of the game. Initially, the plan was to make all candies worth the same amount of points and allow people to simply trade for the flavors they wanted. However, a few minutes before the end of their allotted discussion time, they were informed that they could only alter the trading rules, not the point system. They attempted to figure out another method to achieve absolute equality, but the limiting mechanisms in place made it much more complicated. Thus, the changes that were made were simply that people did not have to touch to trade, could talk freely, could trade multiple candies, and could cancel at trade.

After the final round, our instructor Tina Park and Leader Fellow Christine Lim asked us reflective questions and then explained the symbolism of the activity. She confirmed my hunch that the envelopes had been marked with colors for each group because they were rigged: the Circles always had a greater amount of points that were given to them before each round, and the Squares always had the least amount of points compared to the other groups. 

The game ultimately symbolized the way our current capitalist economy operates. It's extremely difficult to jump up a socioeconomic level and very easy to fall out of one. Most people wish to engage in trade with those within their own groups or those above them. 

Tina (she prefers being called this as opposed to Ms. Park) asked us why we decided to adhere to the rules she had implemented that kept individuals from moving up. She acknowledge our fear of being penalized, but told us that if we had organized and rebelled the system together, there would have been no feasible way to penalize us all.

On that insightful note, we all were dismissed from class and told to attend the Leadership Institute director's presentation. There, she lectured us on what Brown has come to acknowledge as the best form of leadership that incorporated multiple forms of influence. Introspectiveness and external understanding, as well as active engagement in more technical forms of social change, will enhance an individual's ability to affect change. 

After the presentation had ended, I approached the director, Kisa Takesue, and thanked her for the lecture. She recognized us as members of the Ivy League Connection and asked about a few of the previous Brown cohort members. We were then invited to eat lunch with her at some point during our stay. I'm excited!

I'm also anticipating the homework I have tonight. There are quite a lot of interesting articles to read and analyze about intersectional feminism, and I can't wait for the interesting class discussions we will have tomorrow.

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