From childhood play spot to social experiment
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on April 25, 2014 | PRINT

On a warm spring day, Clemson’s Social Justice Committee set out to change the community, one rubber ball at a time. For the second year in a row, members of the Social Justice Committee propped up a tent with a table and whiteboard alongside a wooden pit stacked high with rubber balls. The event, entitled “CU at the Ball Pit,” was inspired by a social experiment conducted by the company SoulPancake which seeks to encourage conversations among various individuals on campus by having them sit and ask questions in a ball pit.

SoulPancake is an organization known for YouTube video sensations, including the popular “Kid President” clips. So when Wesley Hutchins, a Clemson graduate student now serving as an assistant director for leadership at Eastern Carolina University, decided last year that he wanted to replicate a SoulPancake experiment on Clemson’s campus, students jumped at the idea.

Hutchins, an engineering student, constructed a gate-accessible ball pit out of wooden boards from Lowe’s, and the experiment, which sought to inspire profound conversations with complete strangers, took off from there.

On April 16 of this year, the Social Justice Committee within Residential Life repeated the experiment at an event known as “CU at the

Ball Pit.”

Over the course of two days, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., volunteer graduate students and members of the Social Justice Committee supervised as a variety of Clemson students, campus tour attendees, professors and faculty members sat with each other in the ball pit and attempted to hold meaningful conversations with the person opposite them.

“You would be surprised what you might learn from someone with a very different identity from your own; different viewpoints and life experiences contribute to a diversity element that is really cool to see here on campus,” Brittney Smith, a graduate student and member of the Social Justice Committee, who volunteered her time at CU at the Ball Pit, said. “We really value the idea that you can get to know someone that you might not talk to at any other point in time.”

Volunteers facilitated these interactions as participants crawled into the ball pit and asked each other questions written on the plastic balls.

“Though we didn’t direct their dialogue, we found that the participants usually ended up talking about neat things! I saw one really intellectual conversation between a professor and student who didn’t even know each other, which was cool. I also saw a guy and a girl flirt and end up exchanging phone numbers — it seems the ball pit is responsible for new Clemson love,”

Smith said.

After the participants completed their ball pit conversations, each would jot down some notes about the experience on slips of paper and would then tape their responses to a whiteboard.

The Social Justice Committee plans to compile the written responses to the experience and document the overall reactions to the playful methodology of initiating conversation.

Some of the anonymous replies included, “I learned that you are never too old to sit in a ball pit,” “It was great to see how interconnected we all really are” and “It was wonderful to know that everyone, even strangers, can face similar challenges in life.”

As the event’s slogan states, the committee hopes that the annual CU at the Ball Pit event will continue to “share the awesome” across the Clemson community for years

to come.

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