Social Work
University of Mississippi

Social Work students aspire to end misconceptions after poverty simulation event.

Posted on November 16th, 2022 by lkdrewry

By Lauren Kate Drewry

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, the University of Mississippi held a poverty simulation event for students from various academic schools and departments across campus. Students were given a family scenario at random and were asked to simulate how they would go about their lives under certain situations. This training served to help them have a better understanding of other people’s circumstances and how to apply this knowledge in their profession. 

Once the students walked in, they were given a name tag and had to find their “family” based on the last name on their tag. They were given a family description that detailed who each family member was, their age, and what they would do on a day-to-day basis. It also told them what family members worked and if they were full-time, part-time, or on disability. If the family had children, the child attended daycare, public school, or college. 

Social Work student Ja’Lahya Stokes’s eldest child in the simulation was attending college, but as the “weeks” went by, she began to struggle to try to get her youngest child to daycare and herself to work. Her eldest child in the simulation decided to drop out of college to take on a few responsibilities at home.

Stokes said, “Before we got the hang of things, I was late to work one morning (Week 1), and ended up getting turned around at the front door of my job. So I wasn’t paid for a week of work.”

Social Work student Kathy King was a single mother in the simulation who lived with her father and brother.

“I thought a lot about single mothers during the simulation and how difficult it must be to navigate caring for children, work, bills, and navigating time management,” said King. “There were two adults in my household during the simulation, and that was stressful at times because we had a very limited income.”

Throughout the simulation, the families had bills to pay that included rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, clothes, miscellaneous items, loans, and childcare. During one portion of the game, Stokes’s family had been robbed, and their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card was stolen.

Stokes said, “Fortunately, we’d gone grocery shopping right before, so we were fine on food for that week, but it was still my responsibility to sign paperwork at the Social Service Agency so we could receive EBT benefits again.”

King had a similar experience with her family unit being robbed multiple times.

“During the simulation, a professor came around with “luck of the draw cards,” which were usually an unexpected bill of some sort,” said King. “My group got robbed twice by luck of the draw cards and had to give up our stereo card as well as our EBT card.”

King felt that she learned a lot from the simulation about the importance of prioritizing certain expenses over others.

“While as an adult I have had to navigate how to have a budget and what bills to pay each month, I have not had to prioritize in the way that we did during the simulation,” said King. “During the simulation, my family’s main three priorities were utilities, rent, and food. We did not have the money to pay for miscellaneous expenses or clothes. We did not have extra money to go to the movies or sporting events. It was a good reminder to me to be thankful for all that I have, and to be generous in giving of my income and my time.”

Stokes felt that this was a learning experience that gave her empathy for people who are facing poverty situations.

“The poverty simulation reduced a lot of misconceptions about individuals who have fallen on hard times or who are living in poverty,” said Stokes. “The simulation also taught me the importance of empathy. Individuals living in poverty make a lot of sacrifices to make ends meet. We as “helping professionals” are responsible for assisting those individuals to the best of our ability without judgment. The poverty simulation improved my awareness of financial hardships, economic difficulties, government assistance programs, and community resources.”

King says that the poverty simulation helped her understand the resiliency of those living in poverty and how it is not a choice for them.

“As we debriefed the simulation in one of my social work classes, we discussed the stereotypes that can often exist of people living in poverty as being “lazy,” which is not true,” said King. “Prioritizing which bills to pay, navigating childcare and work, and putting food on the table are things that require a lot of energy and effort. I did not choose my privilege. People do not choose poverty.”

Stokes feels that the poverty simulation is an experience that she will carry on into her future career in social work.

“Unfortunately, the situations that we were exposed to are the difficult circumstances that many families in our country are confronted with,” said Stokes. “Though we only grazed the surface of the difficulties that several families face, it gave me the chance to step into their shoes for a moment in an effort to try to understand their circumstances and how I, as a social worker, can be of better assistance to those individuals once I begin working in my field.”

King feels that her experience in the poverty simulation is directly related to the values represented in the social work field. She also thinks that it is important for communities to be educated on the resources that are available through social services.

“One of the values of the Code of Ethics in social work is treating others with dignity and respect,” said King. “This training helped reemphasize the importance of treating others with dignity and respect. Educating ourselves on what resources are available is also an important lesson. If we do not know what resources are out there in the community to help like social services, health care, food pantries, etc., how can we share those with others?”