When Brittney Taylor entered the Trojan Center ballroom, she wasn’t expecting her outlook on life to change.
But Taylor, one of about 60 Troy University senior nursing students who took part in a poverty simulation Tuesday morning, learned valuable lessons over the course of just a few hours.
“I learned not to be as judgmental,” Taylor said. “We often wonder what those in poverty are doing to help themselves, but in some situations they aren’t able to help themselves. As a nursing student, I have wondered, ‘Why don’t diabetics eat healthier?’ Well, a lot of times they don’t have the money or access to eat healthier.”
The University’s School of Nursing, in conjunction with the Office of Civic Engagement, presented the poverty simulation, based on the Missouri Community Action Network’s Community Action Poverty Simulation, a roleplaying experience designed to teach participants about the hardships faced by those in poverty.
Nursing faculty underwent training to assume various roles during the event, including social workers, bankers, police officers, mortgage agents and even criminals.
Students were divided into family units and given limited budgets to match their unique scenarios. From there, they were asked to survive a month, divided into four 15-minute “weeks.”
Taylor, for instance, assumed the role of a recently released prisoner struggling to provide for a family.
“I had a probational job, so I had to be at my job every week or I would lose it,” she said. “I had to help support a girlfriend and her child while still being wage garnished for my own child. I learned that even if people in poverty have a job, it’s hard because there’s no time for anything else. It’s hard to get resources if you’re at work all day and everything’s closed when you get off.”
That perspective is exactly what the organizers wanted from the event.
“We really wanted to bring awareness to poverty, particularly in our surrounding communities,” said Dr. Kerri Outlaw, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing. Over 30 percent of the people in Pike County alone suffer from poverty. This is not a game, it’s a simulation for them to understand how difficult it is to live in poverty, and how expensive it actually can be with reconnect fees, cancellation fees, things like that.”
One of those students, Parker Allen, called the simulation “humbling.”
“I didn’t know how far I could stretch a dollar until I was put in this situation,” he said. “I didn’t know how bad the situation could get until I saw some of these situations. It was very valuable and very eye opening. Anyone going through the health care field or trying to help somebody else should go through this exercise.”
Some students walked away surprised by just how difficult the simulation proved to be.
“I thought I had everything in the bag, it was going to go smoothly, it would be fine,” said Bairon Francisco. “I slowly realized that wasn’t necessarily going to happen. You have a lot of things that come up that you don’t expect. My mindset now is to expect the unexpected in life, because anything can happen. Someone may have to go to the doctor or a car gets messed up, and you have no money. I can only imagine how these people make it day to day.”
Outlaw said the simulation was equally important for the faculty members involved.
“We thought we’d include faculty, because this would help sensitize them to things going on at their back door,” Outlaw said. “We hope it helps us as faculty members to better understand our students and some of the struggles they face. And with the students, we hope they become more empathetic. This will make them better nurses.”
Taylor said she’ll take the lessons learned Tuesday with her into her professional life.
“If I have a patient whose family isn’t around, instead of judging or jumping to conclusions, I should realize that maybe those family members are working so they can maintain their day-to-day lives,” she said.
Outlaw said she hopes to bring this poverty simulation out into communities throughout the Wiregrass.
Anyone interested in bringing the poverty simulation to their communities can contact Outlaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.