Students Simulate Experience of Life In Poverty

By: Gina Carfagno

Students who are enrolled in the Poverty and Learning class, along with 20 other participants, recently experienced a poverty simulation opportunity on campus.

The four-week program was set up to help raise awareness about poverty and to build solidarity, giving students the ability to experience and understand challenges brought on by poverty first-hand.

Sean Rhiney, Director of the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning, along with Professor Bree Lang, who teaches the service learning course, collaborated with the Freestore Foodbank to put together this program for the students who are working on an impact and assessment for the Foodbank’s cooking program.

“I think it was successful in many ways; students gained a higher level understanding of the challenges facing our neighbors in transitional or lifelong poverty,” Rhiney said. “The most profound impact I observed was less tangible, but equally impactful. By the second or third week, or rotation, students were expressing frustration and anger with the system and their circumstances, and even a diminished sense of self-worth, or lack of confidence in their abilities to ever seize better opportunities.”

During the four weeks, each student was given a family member role and a list of tasks to complete within the four weeks.

Some of these tasks included finding transportation, getting to work, finding childcare, paying rent, buying groceries, attending school, getting medical care and engaging with social service agencies.

Graduate counseling students in Professor Ty Crook’s class also played roles in the simulation, acting as the teachers, employers, agency workers, and housing providers that interacted with Dr. Lang’s students. The simulation ended with a reflection in which Freestore Foodbank CEO Kurt Reiber also participated. Rhiney was also pleased with the takeaways from this reflection.

“They recognized that there was more to the stereotypes they might have carried into the experience,” Rhiney said. “They felt great empathy and understanding having played a role that while it was of course brief, hopefully, in concert with the remainder of their course this semester, will forever change the way they view situational poverty and how they might make a difference.”