Pandas and Zebras and Students, Oh My!

by Anthony Krueger

On Thursday, Nov. 14, students were told how acting like animals could benefit them as leaders during a recent Leadstrong program.

Orin Strauchler, Director of Counseling, led this program at the invitation of Leadership Development Coach Jess Mushel.

According to Mushel, a Leadstrong is a program run to enlighten the student leaders on campus. They seek to strengthen the Mount community.

“This is not a common program,” said Strauchler.

Strauchler said Mushel asked him to come and present his program to the leaders on campus.

“Dr. Strauchler is here to help assist me for this leadstrong,” said Mushel. “During this I just want to remind all of you to smile.”

Strauchler explained he wanted to split students into two separate groups and send them to different rooms before receiving further instruction.

For this particular Leadstrong, Strauchler provided each group with a paper explaining the role they would play. As the title of the program suggested, the students in one group were pandas, the other zebras.

The paper provided spoke of cultural norms and the topics of conversation for each respective group.

To name a few, the zebras were informal and friendly. They were more outgoing and eager to interact with complete strangers of the opposite gender.

Zebras addressed everyone by their first name and saw both genders as equal; however, they placed conversations with the opposite gender at a higher value. Their preferred topics of discussion were money and science. Each interaction lasted less than one minute.

Pandas preferred to interact with members of their own culture. They are not the type to initiate conversations with strangers and they speak only when spoken to. Male pandas are seen as weaker and only spoke to zebra women through their female panda companion. Pandas were formal addressing everyone as “sir” or “ma’am,” but men did not look women in the eye. Their topic of discussion was family relationships and they spent more time on each interaction.

“Review each of your sheets and become familiar with how you are supposed to act,” said Strauchler. “In a moment I am going to ask for one volunteer to go and observe the other group as you guys begin to interact based off your sheets.”

Mushel said she was interested to see how each of the students would take on the challenge.

Students were then asked to get in small groups and interact with other groups.

“I found this to be a challenge,” said freshman Isabella Tartaglione. “Each group had their set way of communicating, so it was a struggle to make connections.”

Strauchler told the students they were all portraying a role and were meant to cause havoc of some kind.

“It’s interesting to act out this new identity in such a way,” said Strauchler. “You are playing this role with a lack of understanding on the part of the opposite group, thus causing the annoyance you are all describing.”

Mushel said the exercise brought to light something many face every day without realizing it’s happening.

“We see this divide of Pandas and Zebras on our own campus,” said sophomore Asma Neblett. “Some people isolate themselves in this academic realm, but there needs to be a balance between those who are extremely outgoing and those who seem to refuse making new friends.”

Strauchler explained that we all need to step back and take a moment to realize the culture each and every person comes from.

“Not everyone is raised the same way,” said Strauchler. “My hope is that this exercise has emphasized this point and each of you will walk away with the understanding that you need to respect someone in order to get to know them.”