The purpose of this Thursday's "Star Power" activity in a classroom above the CSP library was to engage students in awareness of how discrimination can be experienced at Concordia and in the world. Such discrimination could include racial judgment, religious prejudice, or basic social group exclusion that is present in many settings in our world; the campus of Concordia does not prove itself an exception. Rather than pointing blame or whining helplessly, an activity was organized so that students could see what it is like to belong to a discriminated group or to a group that possesses a certain extent of power. A game was introduced in which chips are traded with the goal of gaining the most points through bartering with other players. Competition ensued as all attendees took part in this game and attempted to score highest in the first round. After individual numbers were recorded, a second round followed. This time, players were separated into groups based on their original scores. A group of four players who earned the highest scores quickly became identified as the group with the most power, while the group of about ten players who scored lowest was soon ridiculed, receiving name-callings such as "slow" and "cheating" by a play-acting leader who intended to illustrate the symbolism of this activity. A middle group had some power over the lowest group but was scorned by the highest group. A few more rounds were played and the group in highest power stayed intact, with essentially their same five or six members forming its circle. Finally, the highest-scoring group received the rights to change the rules of the game, causing the two lower groups to bond together for strength--a battle of numbers, resulting in a group of twenty threatening and being threatened by a group of six.
The symbolism of this activity quickly became evident. The concluding discussion led to commentaries on social structure such as, "Those in power stay in power, having more accessible resources to remain at the top," and "The rich get richer while the poor stay poor." Students shared their awareness of judgment and discrimination that attaches itself to social groups. Participants explained perceptions of the seemingly-irreversible decision-making power of a strong group over a weak group, resulting in shutting out the weak and causing them to hesitate in speaking their ideas again. Students discussed human desires to belong to a group and identify with it; desire and desperation to maintain one's own status or pride; and the peer pressure that comes with belonging to a group and behaving according to its norms (or else face being kicked out). One student strongly asserted his impression of the existence of clearly-defined social groups that make up a segregated Concordia campus, excluding anyone who does not fit with their defined characteristics (including choir and music participants, athletic teams, and so on). All in all it was decided that Concordia must come to realize that the school as a whole can and ought to break down barriers and come together to form a unified body.
This goal, realized from the activity, shares common characteristics with this semester's Honors discussions regarding Christian vocation, especially concerning Christian service to the world. Part of showing love to one's neighbor means taking an extra step out of one's own comfortable belonging and into an unfamiliar setting where one may not feel he or she "belongs." In the process, a Christian may create an opportunity to cross barriers and treat his or her fellow human with a welcoming, empathetic attitude. One comment was heard at the Star Power activity: "It's okay to be with your people; that's human nature." Although sharing bonds with those in whom commonalities are found is acceptable, ostracizing others who do not share certain characteristics or interests frankly opposes the essence of Christianity--caring for those who struggle and reaching the outcast. An excuse such as "That's human nature" has no place in the mind of a Christian. God has put a new spirit in His children whom He has brought into fellowship with Him through baptism. Although Christians daily struggle against their inbred sinful nature, they are no less a new person, possessing a heart of love placed within them by Christ through His love. God has built into His people a spirit of compassion, made them holy through His Son's blood, and enables them to live out their faith on this earth. Christians are perfectly able by God's grace to act on their faith in Christ, sharing His love with those around them in every station in life. This may include, according to the current topic, crossing socially-created barriers and even to a certain extent erasing them, showing acceptance and validation to others whom God has created with His infinite measure of love. God's grace, lived out by His people, can overcome difficult social and cultural boundaries that are formed with hurtful and dehumanizing results.
This activity helped me personally to evaluate the topics of social distinctions and formations of barriers among groups on campus and in the world. I believe most of the time these barriers are formed with little conscious recognition, and the effects are extremely subtle but by no means deniable. It is easy to ignore these constructions and more difficult to act for the sake of positive change. I believe it is true, according to our discussion following the Star Power game, that such change requires teamwork to form a unified movement in a positive direction regarding this issue. Formation of cliques, exclusion of those who aren't a part of defined groups, and avoidance of those we don't know can be eliminated and replaced with a sense of community that surpasses lines drawn within the larger body of Concordia University. It is definitely possible to rise above these problems and create a feeling of wholeness among all those who attend this institution. For my part, I will address those I may not otherwise consider acknowledging, take time to patiently greet those I pass, and avoid forming any in-group sentiments that would cause others to feel excluded. As usual, I remind myself that such noble transformations of behavior are accomplished through God's grace as He provides me with His Spirit and enables me to live out the faith He has built into me. Just as His righteousness is now mine through Christ's work, salvation belongs to me through Christ's justification, and peace is mine through knowledge of His love for me, so also His mercy is mine to give to others without holding back.