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VU students role-play humanitarian mission

Ashley Watsleft cradles packet humanitarian aid while trying avoid being detained by 'gun-wielding' guard Michael Petersduring political science class exercise

Ashley Watson, left, cradles a packet of humanitarian aid while trying to avoid being detained by "gun-wielding" guard Michael Peterson during a political science class exercise at Valparaiso University Tuesday Sept. 18, 2012. Watson, a junior from Trevor, WI., was playing the part of a refugee in a war-torn area. Peterson, a sophomore from Highland, took on the duties of a guard, patrolling the streets, taking bribes and confiscating aide for the ruling regime. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 20, 2012 6:17AM



VALPARAISO — Michael Peterson is a checkpoint guard.

When civilians try to get by him with much-needed food, water and medical supplies dropped off by a humanitarian group, he hassles them for their papers and won’t let them pass by without a bribe, like a few bottles of water.

Rachel Pollock is a civilian.

She is trying to get as many of those supplies as possible without being shot by Peterson or a sniper perched up high. When Peterson ups his bribe for letting her through with water bottles, she tries to bargain with him and then gives up, desperate to deliver a round of supplies and go back for more.

In real life, Peterson is a sophomore at Valparaiso University from Highland, and Pollock is a VU senior from southern Indiana. But on Tuesday, in the Harre Union, they got to take on the roles of lives being lived by countless people in conflicts across the globe.

“It was just very interesting seeing how bribes and extortion play a role in getting aid to people,” said Peterson, a political science major.

Amy Atchison, an assistant professor of political science, put on the exercise for 15 students with assistance from the disaster and international service division of the American Red Cross.

She admitted her international regimes and global governance class can be a little depressing because it’s about international human rights law and war crimes.

“I wanted something the students would be doing that was physical and would be active, but would give them a bit of respite from the harshness of the material,” she said, adding her goal was to give the students an idea of the hardships faced by civilians during times of war.

Many of Atchison’s students are focusing on international studies and want to work for non-governmental organizations, she said, and the exercise helps them better understand the plight of the places they may someday work.

White tape in one of the ballrooms of the union marked the streets, a danger spot for encounters with the checkpoint guard but a safe zone from the sniper. Cardboard boxes represented rubble, where civilians were safe from the guard but could be knocked off by the sniper.

Pollock, who is majoring in social work and international service, said she didn’t have a method for getting the supplies; she just grabbed what she could and ran. She admitted her attempts to negotiate with the guard were unsuccessful.

“It made me think about civilians and how difficult life would be,” she said.



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