Last week, junior social work majors spent hours preparing and orchestrating a poverty simulation available to all students.
The goal of the simulation was to aid students in awareness and understanding regarding individuals and families who are struggling financially. The result was just that: the simulation was an organized, chaotic event involving students of many different backgrounds determined to understand and succeed in a foreign way of life.
All participants were given a role to play. The roles varied across the board, ranging from newly unemployed, to single parent, to social security senior citizen. The majority of the roles were people constantly fighting to stay above the poverty line; still working yet struggling.
The simulation was broken into four twelve-minute weeks. Each week was full of responsibilities for each person to earn basic needs regarding food, shelter, money, and work. At the end of each week a whistle would blow and the week’s necessities and responsibilities would begin all over again.
Junior social work students were in charge of various stations and character roles such as bank tellers, mortgage companies, and food agencies. Mary Du Mez, a junior social work major, manned the food stamp agency table and was surprised with how much stress a life on the brink of poverty has.
“We don’t think of the barriers that people face—like a single parent getting his or her kids to daycare everyday. It’s a struggle to balance everything and takes a toll on the emotions.”
When asked what the purpose of the simulation was Du Mez said, “we want to raise awareness of what poverty is like and create empathy for those that are poor enough but not in extreme poverty.”
Kevin Novotny, a junior participant, said, “The first week was eye-opening to see.” Novotny was given the role of a nine-year-old and was shocked within the first week that as a young kid he was affected by the stress and fear of his unstable life. “I know people who live like this every day,” Novotny continued, “so it’s neat to see what it’s like.”
Elizabeth Slagter, a sophomore social work major, was flustered in her role and shocked with the helplessness in such financial crises situations. “I have no money and only one more place to go to for help; there’s no way I can pay my rent.”
In short, the social work students succeeded in what they set out to do– raise awareness and understanding in an all too common issue. Megan Tinklenberg, a junior social work major, summed it up saying, “There are a lot of different reasons for poverty, not just the lazy stereotype. It depends on the situation and resources.”