NSLC: utopian community?

BERKELEY, Calif. — Students are told to walk into a room and pick up a name tag with either the name Schroeder, Charlie Brown, Snoopy or Woodstock, and then to find the rest of their groups, spread out across the room. The floor is divided with tape into four unequal parts: Imagine a large rectangle divided into thirds in which two-thirds of the divisions remain but the last one-third is divided in half. I and a fellow newswriting student are pulled aside and told that we willnot be participating. Instead, our role in the simulation isto act as reporters: How are people reacting? What is being said?

As we circulate around, we see several instances that will make for great and interesting articles. However, every story we want to “publish” has to have the approval of the editor-in-chief. The goal of the entire activity is to create an ideal utopian society, but it is clear that Snoopy and Woodstock got the smalle,r taped-off squares and the worse supplies while Schroeder and Charlie Brown start off with more land, more supplies and a lot more money.

This is the scene as Mike Walsh, motivational speaker and leadership director at the National Student Leadership Conference, then reveals nine rules:

1. All police decisions are final.
2. Each community has a representative to buy building supplies. You may switch representatives but there may be only one at a time.
3. Community members must stay within boundaries unless they are talking to the housing authorities.
4. Stay within the boundaries.
5. You need a permit to build anything.
6. Use the supplies provided to the group (cards/tape/paper/etc.) to build.
7. Label all buildings and structures with markers.
8. If anyone would like to build a structure that doesn’t exist, they must ask for a permit from the housing authorities.
9. Ultimately, Housing chooses the best community/structures based on appeal and practicality.
It was also clear that even though Snoopy/Woodstock spaces were smaller, they were clearly overcrowded. As the activity continued further, mayhem ensued. The police were not distributing punishment equally; people were being sent to “jail;” people were choosing jail because the conditions in jail were much better than in Snoopy/Woodstock; Schroeder/Charlie were given free money, whereas money was taken away from the other two, and so on.

To make the situation even more intimidating, all of the TAs stuck firmly to their roles as the police authority and even wore dark sunglasses to portray their characters.  In the end, the corruption got so bad that the jail group formed a rebellion and attempted to overthrow the government. In many cases, Schroeder and Charlie Brown were never sent to jail, but by the end of the activity, every person from Woodstock and Snoopy was sent to jail at least once, and some were sent to jail multiple times.

In jail, they had to perform some sort of physical exercise or manual labor in order to be released. I was able to interview one particular student, Jess Mendes, after he was released from jail. He was sent to jail because his heel was sticking out of the boundary of Woodstock’s community, and after performing 100 jumping jacks, he was released. “I’m fully reformed now!” he exclaimed as he made his way back to his group. In the end, the corruption got so bad that the jail group formed a rebellion and attempted to overthrow the government.

The societal stratification was evident when we finished. The purpose was to get us to realize that this “ideal society” is, in fact, a replica, or a very close one, of the society we live in and endorse today.

But sometimes, we are so caught up in ourselves and in our own bubbles that we fail to notice those in need of assistance. What no one thought to do was simply remove the tape barriers in between the groups and work together. That way, they would have more supplies and their community could have prospered.

Instead, they chose not to associate with the “lower class” and not aid them because they had to worry about themselves.

In one situation, people from Snoopy were offered jobs to go work for Schroeder, in which they would be paid for their work. Three students eagerly took the offer and, intrigued as to what the other group members would think (surely they would feel betrayed) I went to ask their opinion. Their answers in response to the abandonment were shocking: “There’s more room now!” said Kaitlin and fellow member Lauren Churchwell said, “They’re making us money, I’m happy.”

To finish the activity, TA Alisa Morse said,”The goal was to learn how to break down the mental barriers that separate us from functioning as a proper society and learn how to not accept labels as the entire, if any, truth.”

To build a perfect community is nearly impossible; to build an ideal utopian community is an even more daunting challenge.

As Churchwell said, “This place is seriously corrupt, man!”, it is my belief that the students were realizing the essence of the activity. When presented with the task of building a utopian society, the TA’s had to have known that the task was impossible. Thus, the entire activity wa an exercise to get students to relaize the way a society can easily become overhwhelmed with thoughts of money and prosperity and understand that societal stratification can hinder progress in our advanced world.