Apartheid Simulation

Posted by - - 1980s, Believers

In spring 1986, Whitworth students sought to empathize with the plight of blacks in South Africa by holding an apartheid-simulation day on campus. In a “diary” that was published for Whitworth Today, one of the students wrote, “It’s a big challenge we’ve undertaken – to grasp a complex subject like apartheid from our perspective a hemisphere away from South Africa. Attempting to simulate an apartheid state on a college campus can provide at best only a glimmer of reality. But for a community like Whitworth, with its history of social concern, it seems right to try.” Students organized simulations that required white students to carry identity passes to gain admittance into buildings where security officers were stationed; the students were to observe signs that indicated where white students were allowed to enter. The overarching rule of the simulation stated, “As a majority person, you have no rights as a citizen.”

The day got mixed reviews from students. Some didn’t believe it made any difference, while others felt their perspectives changed. Amy Neil, ’86, a religion major who helped organize the event and served as a security guard, said of her fellow students, “They were frustrated over the fairly trivial things they were asked to do. And it wasn’t that inconvenient. If they reflect on that at all, they’ll realize that the level of frustration for black South Africans must be extremely high. It doesn’t just happen for one day there. It’s a lifetime.” One late night that week, just in time for the board of trustees meeting the following day, Neil and her fellow organizers planted 450 crosses across The Loop that bore the names of apartheid victims. Student leaders met with Whitworth President Robert Mounce, asking him and the board of trustees to review the college’s investment portfolio and to withdraw monies from companies doing business in South Africa. After reviewing investments, the board attempted to reassure the campus community that their funds were not helping to support apartheid.

The simulation events attracted the attention of various Spokane media, with all three TV stations following the student participants. “This generation has been labeled as ‘do-nothings’,” said Director of Student Activities Glenn Smith, one of the organizers, “but there are more concerned students than you think. And the fact that [the simulation event] was so well covered by the media made even the students who weren’t involved realize what an important issue it is.”