Sea My Culture: How Graduate students teach multicultural issues through a game
Updated: Nov 10
Written by: Sophia da Silva 🇧🇷
Xinyi Zhang and Jessica Nguyen demonstrating how to play the game with children at College Park Day on Oct.7,2023 (Sophia da Silva)
Two doctoral school psychology students at The University of Maryland set out to create a resource that allowed adults to discuss prejudice with children in a way that wasn’t scary leading to the conception of the board game Sea My Culture.
Xinyi Zhang and Mazneen Havewala took a class on multicultural issues and conflict in the fall of 2021. As part of the class they were assigned to create a resource that communities could use to tackle multicultural issues. In brainstorming ideas for the project Havewala recounted an experience with her oldest son, Kayezad, that ended up being the inspiration for the board game.
“I wish we could talk about race with kids,” Havewala said, “my older one, he had come back from school one day and he shared something like, ‘no mom please don’t give me our Parsi Indian food, my friend made fun of me. For tomorrow can you just give me a sandwich please.’”
Havewala wished she had a way to talk to her son that could meet him at his level and didn’t feel preachy. That’s when Zhang recommended a sort of game that could serve to explain prejudice to kids.
The idea of the game stuck in their heads long after the class ended and they decided to make it a reality.
The game is developed for eight to 13 year-olds to be played among kids with an adult facilitator and utilizes a variety of pedagogical approaches to keep kids engaged and teach them about prejudice. Zhang and Havewala followed the ADDRESSING model when deciding how to talk about prejudice.
The ADDRESSING model is a counseling framework to understand different aspects of identity. Each letter stands for some aspect; age, developmental and acquired disabilities, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, indigenous group, nationality and gender, as described by Ohio University.
“In the moment it is actually really hard to talk about these issues with children even though as future psychologists we know that these conversations need to happen and these conversations need to happen at a young age,” said Zhang.
Demonstration of the board game at College Park Day on Oct.7,2023 (Sophia da Silva)
The game follows players as they go on a journey to defeat a hungry monster threatening the game world’s islands.
There are two phases of the game, in phase one players make their way through their islands collecting gems to make their way into the final race to defeat the monster. To progress into phase two the entire group must collect three times the number of gems and each individual must collect two.
Players start at one of five food themed islands, each representing a different culture, and shake a die to determine how many spaces to move their game piece. Each space is one of four different colors coordinating with game cards.
Orange represents wildcards that have challenges that a player may encounter on their journey and inconvenience them from snow storms causing players to move back spaces to polar bear attacks causing one to miss an entire turn. Kayezad was actually the one to come up with all the ideas for the wild cards according to Zhang.
“It’s not really a bad thing but a sort of downgrade,” said Kayezad.
Pink cards are power up cards which include energy boosts for players. These cards provide food, water and exercise for players to recharge on their journey. Zhang and Havewala call this “social emotional learning” where kids can learn to manage their emotions including prompts like running around the room, taking a deep breath and remembering to stretch.
The pillars of the game are the green cultural connection cards and the blue What Would You Do Cards (WWYD), explained Zhang. The cultural connection cards get players to share things about their culture and experience as well as providing definitions for prejudice that children may face and asking to share their experience. WWYD cards outline examples of prejudice that kids may face in their day to day lives and ask them to exercise empathy in how they would address the situation.
The game also has “High Five” and “Seek Help” cards. Each player gets three of each kind of card. High Five are given to applaud other players for good ideas and responses to cards. Seek Help is like a lifeline for players to ask for help answering questions. These cards were put in place for kids to practice giving compliments to people and to not be afraid of asking for help.
A child is playing the Sea My Culture board game at College Park Day on Oct.7,2023 (Sophia da Silva)
The team received money during the summer of 2022 from the Do Good Foundation Summer Accelerator Fellowship that allowed them to work on the game intensively.
This year Sea My Culture outreach coordinator, public policy masters student Jessica Nguyen, applied for the Do Good mini grant to secure extra funding. The team is still in the process of securing more funding including participating in the Do Good and Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship competition and getting on Kickstarter to be able to produce and distribute the game widely, according to Zhang and Nguyen.
Through playing the game Havewala has been able to strengthen the bond between her and her son, Kayezad.
“[The game] helps build that strong bond. So I hope we can bring this to the world and other people can also experience what we have experienced playing the game.”
Correction: the original title "Sea My Culture: How two students teach prejudice through a game" lacked the word about which made it seem as though the game teaches prejudice but it does not. We also said that Zhang and Havewala met in a class on multicultural issues but they knew each other prior to the class.