by Sara Morris ’16
Community-Based Learning is something that I have found (in my short 3 semesters) to be very influential and present at Stonehill. I think it provides ways for our students who are currently engrossed in the Stonehill bubble and culture, to see how their actions affect the local community, their hometowns, and the world as a whole. I am currently taking my Learning Community, a staple experience for Stonehill sophomores, and the topic is The Ethics and Science of Climate Change. For one of our seminar classes, we completed the Community Build/ Diversity Training exercise. For some students in our class, the activity was confusing and they were not fully aware of the goal. I had done the activity before in preparation for my H.O.P.E alternative spring break service trip, so I had an idea of what was being asked of us.
The activity splits the participants up into 3 groups: Earth, Wind, and Fire. Each group has some resources, a plot of “land” (taped square on the ground) and allies in the community such as police officers, a mayor, and a housing department. The goal is to create an ideal community that has the physical components of a safe and successful area, that is aesthetically pleasing, and that allows its constituents to thrive. During my first experience with the exercise, I was placed in the Earth group. The Earth group has the most amount of money to start off, the largest space, the least amount of people, and better building resources. The Earth members also receive relatively no backlash from the pseudo- governing forces, and are basically given preferential treatment. As a member of Earth, I was so concerned with making our community the most affluent and beautiful it could be, that I was extremely distanced from what was going on in other groups. I obviously could tell that we had a bigger space, and more resources, but wasn’t fully aware of the situations in the Wind and Fire groups. Our community ended up with parks, a hospital, a large school, different residential areas, police and fire stations, a town hall… all the works.
The second time I did the activity, for my LC, I was placed in the Fire group. I hadn’t previously known the difference in treatment, and the experience as a whole that I would have being in the different group. The Fires begin with $15, as opposed to $90 that Earth starts with. We also have very limited building materials, such as ripped newspaper or some random pipe cleaners and Popsicle sticks. Since we had to really budget our money we decided that the one main building we would pursue with our small expenses, was a hospital, due to the fact that it could provide health and wellness, employment, and revenue. We brought the idea to the building/housing authority and she said no. She and other community authorities said no one would come to our part of town for a hospital, they would go to the others and that we didn’t have any constituents that were educated enough to work in the hospital. They offered a casino, and some fast food restaurants, along with Single Room Occupancy housing instead. It became evident pretty immediately that we were a lower income, less prosperous area, that the government treated extremely differently than the others. The activity lasted about a half hour, full of frustration and annoyance, along with our members being moved and thrown in jail time after time for bogus reasons. At the end of the activity we had a pathetic looking casino, and one housing option for our people. I was the driving force in avoiding fast food restaurants as it leads to food deserts and malnourished people, so we basically had no food production either.
During our reflection of the activity, we all realized many things about how different areas are treated by the government, and the resources they are given. Going from the Earth group in one instance, to the Fire group in another was extremely eye opening, and gave me true insight into what the activity is trying to accomplish. I am also currently taking a Political Science course called Inequality, which examines poverty trends and redistributive government policies, which also furthered my experience with this activity and through these cases of experiential learning, I am seeing the impacts of our policies and societal implications on certain communities. It is not that the constituents are lazy, or do not want to work on building their communities; but after constantly meeting resistance and condescending compromises, along with seeing the prosperity of people that want the same things you do just in a different town- would you want to try anymore?