University students participated in a poverty simulation hosted by the Center for Service and Social Justice on Saturday.
“The poverty simulation is not a game” explained Cathy Seymour, campus minister for Social Justice at The University. “But it really does try to simulate what it is like for a family that is low income.”
The simulation, which took place on the fourth floor of the DeNaples Center, was an hour long enlightening experience for its 78 participants.
To begin with, students were randomly assigned families, all of a lower socioeconomic class. They were each given a packet with information with their family’s resources and financial situation, including income.
“I think it also really shocked our students when I told them we didn’t take the lowest people on the totem pole, the people making the least. We took an average of the people who are low income,” Seymour explained.
Some families were also given dolls to represent children under three. These children could not just be abandoned on chairs but had to be in the care of an adult or left at childcare. The idea of the simulation was to be as realistic as possible.
The Ballroom was lined with various tables representing community resources. These included social services, public school, daycare, a homeless shelter, a bank, an employment office, prison, a health clinic and a pawn shop. The simulation lasted an hour, divided into four fifteen minute “weeks” during which adults would go to work or places in the community, and children would go to school.
This is the fourth time the simulation has been done at The University.
“The first time we did it we invited faculty and staff and had people from our local service agencies staff the tables, so we had experts in the room. Our faculty was really supportive of it, and some have required their students to come experience it,” Seymour said. This year, in addition to the students who participated, 20 students helped staff the simulation. “It’s a huge undertaking,” Seymour said.
“Many of our students have never experienced what it’s like to not have enough” Seymour, who encourages students to participate in future simulations, said. “If you are a student who volunteers in the local community, then it might give you a deeper insight into the people that you are working with. It also might be an nice entrée for someone who is not yet doing service, and maybe overcome some stereotypes about it is like to be low income.”
Senior Courtney Westermann was a previous participant of the simulation, which she describes as “eye-opening.”
“It’s not an exercise you come out forgetting. You’d be amazed at how much you learn at the end of an hour,” Westermann said.
This year Westermann worked at the daycare where parents pay to have their “children” watched while they are working (as in real life, childcare is not free). If parents failed to pick their children up, they were reported to the police.
Sophomore Patrick Chapman said the simulation offers a “glimpse of what it might be like for someone who is impoverished.”
Patrick worked as the simulation’s police officer, putting adults in jail and children in juvenile hall. He is also a previous participant in the simulation.
“It’s one thing to hear about a statistic, it’s another to live it,” Chapman said.
This simulation is far from a game. It is a way for students to actually live statistics they have only heard about, even if that experience is only for an hour.