Poverty simulation seeks to educate students about life in poverty
Gina Twardosz | Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Saint Mary’s will host a poverty simulation Wednesday afternoon in the Rice Commons. The event, sponsored by the Justice Studies Department, is intended to help students better empathize with those in poverty.
Senior Veronika Hanks is in charge of the event. She said in an email that the Poverty Simulation is an immersive experience that will allow students to understand the struggles of poverty.
“A poverty simulation is an interactive immersion that sensitizes participants to the experience of poverty,” she said. “During the hour-long simulation, students will take on the identity of a person in poverty. When I recently participated in a poverty simulation at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Cincinnati, the identities that were given to me and the other participants were based on real people the Center had helped.”
Hanks said the hour–long simulation will feature interactive stations representing the daily complications people in poverty face in their lives.
“For one hour, participants attempt to live for one month in poverty,” she said. “Different tables and stations are set up around the space that represent the bank, the doctor’s office, family services, child care facilities, temp [temporary staffing] agencies and other institutions that the poor interact with in their daily lives. Participants must find a way to pay their rent, take care of their children and deal with any and all obstacles that are assigned to their persona. In the process, participants become better able to understand the plight of the poor.”
Hanks’ interest in poverty simulations led her to apply for a Dooley Grant to obtain funding for the Saint Mary’s simulation.
Professor Andrew Pierce said Dooley Grants aim to fund “student designed and managed projects” that will promote justice and action at Saint Mary’s.
“The Katharine Terry Dooley grants are designed to fund innovative projects by Saint Mary’s College students which address issues of peace and justice, incorporate awareness and action and involve the broader campus community,“ he said.
For Hanks, the emphasis Saint Mary’s puts on justice in its curriculum inspired her to bring a poverty simulation to the school.
“Service and social justice are key components to a Saint Mary’s College education,” she said. “Saint Mary’s students, of all backgrounds and majors, participate in an impressive amount of service work by national standards. Many of us also take advantage of the wide variety of courses offered at Saint Mary’s that address social justice issues, and many of us display a dedication to the poor through their service work and career aspirations. Many students are also well–educated in the plight of those in poverty, as many at Saint Mary’s have themselves experienced it.”
Poverty simulations can help students to better understand the experience of those in poverty, Hanks said.
“No matter how much one may have studied how society might better help the poor, it can be hard for one to truly sympathize with them if they have not themselves experienced poverty,” she said. “By putting students in the shoes of a person in poverty, even for a mere hour, a poverty simulation helps students better understand the emotional experience of poverty.”
A poverty simulation is different than other methods of studying poverty in that it is immersive, Hanks said.
“Unlike academic approaches to studying poverty, where the poor can be objectified as a field of study, and service work, where a relationship of servitude can keep one separated from the poor even as they aid them, a poverty simulation asks participants to assume the plight of the poor,” she said. “In this way, it forces [participants] to engage with poverty in a way that other avenues do not.”
Hanks said the poverty simulation will be an important experience for all participants, but especially those studying nursing, social work and education.
“Saint Mary’s sends a lot of women into fields that inevitably involve active engagement with Americans in poverty,” she said. “A poverty simulation could only help these women better perform their jobs, as it will equip them with greater empathy for the poor.”
Editor’s note: Veronika Hanks is a former news writer for The Observer.