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Miami Shores, Florida — A new campus event offered at Barry University  was created to raise awareness about the realities of poverty and to shift perceptions about individuals trapped in the system. The Poverty Simulation, offered at universities across the country, is designed to help participants understand what it is like to live in a typical low-income family and face the overwhelming demands of everyday life.

Barry’s outreach to local middle, high school, college students, and community members resulted in more than 148 participants joining the experience. Upon arriving, they were asked to role play a typical scenario as a parent or child in “families” of poverty and navigate through four weeks of logistics related to food stamps, transportation, employment, health care, child care, and housing. 

The Poverty Simulation supports efforts from the Office of Mission Engagement to create awareness about Barry’s social justice mission and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ mission to “walk in solidarity with people who are poor and challenge structures that impoverish them.” Feedback from participants suggests that these goals were reached.

A social studies teacher from a local middle school shared: “I’ve always thought of myself – at least in recent years – as someone who possesses empathy, and who lives my life with understanding of and respect for those not like me. This experience, however, showed me that while I have indeed attempted empathy, I wasn’t even close to being equipped to place myself in the shoes of those who live each day just trying to get by. Last evening was not only a paradigm-shifting experience for me professionally (it will impact the way I teach government), but it also challenged my political views and my personal relationships. I need to spend some time reflecting, for sure, but I am eager to explore some of these issues further.”

A Barry University student shared: “My character was a 17-year-old male who got a 16-year-old girl pregnant and my mom was a single mom trying to make it and I didn’t have money so the quickest way I could do it was to drop out of school. I thought about applying for a job, but realized I needed quick money so I sold drugs, got arrested twice but again my whole mindset was to get quick money, so I can help my mom and also help my girlfriend that was pregnant. It was eye-opening, I loved it and this shows you can’t judge people if you don’t know what they are going through at home and judging should be the last thing that anyone should do, so — lesson learned!” 

Barry’s AmeriCorps Vista, Shay Bellamy, coordinated the program. Sessions were led by trained facilitator Nyima Porter, MSW, who has guided the experience at other universities and serves as a consultant on issues of poverty. Sponsored by Community Learning Partnership grants, the Poverty Simulation was described as an experience that will be remembered at Barry for years to come.


Feature photo: A student holds an eviction notice that was received because housing was not paid. Photo by Daniel Bock


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