Surprise! A Simulation on Statelessness

Each week students in my introduction to international relations course are required to lead a discussion on a ‘current issue’ in international politics.  Next week, the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies at my university is hosting a conference on The Rights of Stateless and Indigenous Persons, and so for this week the topic was statelessness.  Students are allowed ten minutes for a presentation, and then lead a discussion amongst their classmates for twenty minutes.  Everything started off fairly normal–the three students did an effective Prezi presentation on the subject.  But about five minutes in, they suddenly switched gears.  Imagine my surprise when the rest of the class as well as myself were suddenly participants in a simulation on statelessness!

Anyone wearing open-toed shoes (3 women, including myself) were asked to stand in the center of the room; everyone else was allowed to sit in their seats.  Seated students were then handed identification cards.  Then the facilitators offered different treats, such as cookies–but asked to see identification cards before handing them out.  Those of us in the center of the room were ignored or simply told we were not allowed to enjoy any of the advantages given to the seated students.  When one ‘stateless’ person tried to take one of the remaining cookies, she was asked to show her ID, and then denied.

As a five minute exercise goes, it was fairly effective at getting the students to think about some of the challenges facing stateless persons.  I would suggest taking it further, though, and weave it through the entire class.  Give students an extra-credit quiz, for example–but only if they show their ID.  Only let those with IDs talk in class.  Put them in groups for an activity, and force ‘stateless’ students to work only amongst themselves, but with fewer instructions or materials.  Punish any student with an ID that tries to help someone without one (by passing them food or materials or information). There are a lot of variations to employ, but the goal is to make students frustrated and even angry and to use that as a springboard, in the debrief, to talk about how much more challenging the situation is for real-world stateless persons.

This was very apropos, as the morning before this class I received my copy of this month’s PS, and there is an article in there (Frombgen et all 2013) about the pedagogical value of having students design their own IR simulations.  A colleague of mine has students do something like this, but I’d never really tried it.  Now, between the article and my students’ attempt, I’m starting to consider how I could do so next semester.