Kayla Mitchell scrambled from one side of the large Trojan Center Ballrooms to the other, trying to balance her work schedule while also ensuring she had time to shop for groceries and cover her “family’s” financial obligations.
Mitchell, a senior interdisciplinary studies major from Andalusia, was among a group of Troy University students who took part in a poverty simulation, presented by the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, on Wednesday.
“It was stressful,” Mitchell said. “You are put in a situation where you think if you play it smart and save your money, you will be able to come out without losing your home or sinking too deep into debt. I was trying to go to work every day and make enough money to support my family, but we wound up getting evicted from our home. It really gave us all an idea of what we would be facing in real life if we lived at or below the poverty line.”
The students were divided into family units with family members trying to navigate through four periods designed to represent weeks. With each week came new obligations of providing for the family, such as buying groceries, paying bills, seeking health care and getting to work or school.
“This is an experience that we like to provide our students who are entering public service careers,” said Lauren Cochran, coordinator of civic engagement. “Whether or not it is something they can relate to from personal experiences, we think it is important for them to have a general understanding of the different sectors within the community and how they function, as well as the structural barriers that exist for many of our society that live at or below the poverty line.”
Cochran said the simulation helps students gain perspective and empathy for what those living in poverty face on a daily basis.
“We feel it is a valuable experience for our students and helps them gain a perspective often very different from what they have lived, helps them relate to people they will encounter in their future careers,” she said. “It helps them to gain a little empathy after going through such a meaningful experience.”
Mitchell said the event was an eye-opening experience for her and expects it to spur her to look for ways she can serve those in need within her community.
“I think being able to look in my own community, and seeing people who are underprivileged or living below the poverty line, I’m realizing they go through a lot of stress,” Mitchell said. “Seeing it from their point of view has made me want to try to help out and help make things happen on a larger scale so that people don’t have to encounter this type of stress and frustration that comes along with it.”
Fred Polidore, a freshman sociology major from Enterprise, was surprised by how difficult the simulation was and feels like it helped him gain a new perspective on what those in poverty endure.
“I didn’t think it would be this bad,” he said. “You could just lose everything in one week. I’ve never thought that poverty was anyone’s fault, but I think I now have a better idea of what people who live in poverty go through on a daily basis.”
Cochran said the simulation is designed to give participants a better idea of the challenges faced by those who live in poverty, and the students often find the circumstances with which they are presented very surprising.
“It is very much an eye-opening experience, she said. “They can’t imagine having to live through the circumstances and situations that the simulation presents. They have been unaware of what a lifestyle in poverty would entail and the barriers that exists for so many in that situation.”