MLK Day offers reflection for C of I campus

College of Idaho students, faculty and staff picked up detergent, toothpaste, deodorant and other items, and dropped them into drawstring bags destined for young homeless students. It was all part of a small volunteer experience during the United Way poverty simulation held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

In recognition of MLK Day, the College organized campus events including the poverty simulation, a lecture on community, a cross-cultural simulation, a choir performance and a viewing the documentary The Color of Conscience.

“The College of Idaho designated MLK Day as a day of special recognition wherein energies generally devoted to classes were channeled toward reflection on human rights and the social justice values extolled by Dr. King,“ said Paul Bennion, C of I vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

During the poverty simulation, students participated in an interactive game called ‘Making Choices.’ Students were grouped into families and given a budget equal to that of an average Idahoan. It was a way of showing and experiencing how unexpected situations in life can change financial standing, said Robynn Browne, director of development and community engagement for The United Way Treasure Valley.

“People had to make some really hard choices. Life throws stuff at us—people get sick, people lose jobs—and we had a few of those things happen during the course of the game,” Browne said. “You move quickly from sustainability [with your budget] into survival.”

In Idaho, 37 percent of people struggle to make ends meet, according to the ALICE report. Finding out how many people are not living sustainable lives came as a shock to ASCI President Chanse Ward.

“Learning the facts from firsthand sources, seeing the actual lives of people effected in negative ways— you can take that information, along with a college education, and meaningfully work toward improving the lives of others,” Ward said.

The campus community also had the chance to listen to Dr. Larry Roper, a professor in the school of language, culture and society at Oregon State University. He presented on “Today Matters: Building Our Community’s Legacy.”

Roper encouraged people on campus to reflect on themselves and how to improve their relationships among cultures across campus. He asked the audience to look at their community from the perspective of each person in that community.

And that’s where the cross-cultural simulation experience helped. Students, staff and faculty were separated into two groups—Alphas and Betas. They then learned about their new cultures and what the cultural norms and goals were. After getting used to their new culture, they mixed and interacted with each other.

There stood members of the Beta culture, speaking a nonsensical language and holding up cards of differing colors with numbers scribbled on them.

“Ga, JoDi,” a Beta said to a member of the Alpha culture, which spoke English. A puzzled look spread across the Alpha’s face as he realized he hadn’t walked into another room, but another world.

At the end of the game, everyone came back together to discuss what they learned. Alphas were described as “touchy feely,” “exclusive,” and “suckers.” Betas were described as “greedy,” “simple,” and “pushy.”

“There was a sense of trying to understand, but after a while, they [Betas] weren’t helping me understand and I was like, ‘whatever,’” said C of I senior Averey Strong, who was an Alpha.

The experience showed how easy it was to make cultural mistakes, become confused, put up walls to those who are different, and how scary it can be when you’re outside your culture and comfort zone.

“It’s crazy about how stressed an individual gets in a game situation,” said junior Cameron Arnzen. “Think about the real world.”

And that’s exactly what the day was designed to do—to take each event and apply it to the real world. The campus community was asked to reflect upon what they could do to improve the C of I community, to step into another’s shoes, to remember to stick with love in order to “live together as brothers” and not “perish together as fools.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit