On Friday, Nov. 11, the Multicultural Resource Center hosted its annual poverty simulation in the Popp & Martin Student Union. Kimberly Turner, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, has been involved with the poverty simulation program for over two years.

“The object of this experience is to sensitize participants to the day-to-day realities of life faced by people with low-incomes and to motivate us to become involved in activities which help to reduce poverty in this country,” said Turner.

Participants are first assigned to a family and given information including their income, possessions and bills. Then the family will attempt to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty by maneuvering through the community resources. Volunteers act out roles such as banker, pawn broker, police officer, utility collector, teacher, employer and more.

As the “month” progresses, students rush to exchange monopoly money for transportation passes, meet with their social services case worker, attend work, or get the kids to school, all while trying to “pay the bills.” Meanwhile, the loan collector turns over several clusters of chairs, which represents families being evicted from their homes as a consequence for failing to “pay the bills.”

Over-turned chairs representing a family evicted from their home. Photo by Annie Gibbs.
Over-turned chairs representing a family evicted from their home. Photo by Annie Gibbs.

“The hardest part is getting everything done,” said Angel Carter, a freshman participant. “We didn’t eat the whole time, and my kids were in jail.”

At the conclusion of the simulation, students gather around Adjunct Faculty member Dante Bryant with the school of social work. Students share the frustrations they faced within the simulated world. Many felt they couldn’t succeed because the lack of time and resources such as money and transportation. Bryant responds with a fresh dose of reality on poverty happening in the world around us.

Bryant explains that the frustrating limitations of the simulation are the stark reality for the 32.9 million United States citizens who are affected by poverty. Transportation constraints, low wages and lack of inexpensive resources are just a few of the barriers that impoverished community members must overcome. Bryant also shares that most people are likely to remain in the socioeconomic class they are born into.

“This the next generation coming into the workforce,” said Bryant. “These are our next politicians, lawyers, teachers, and police officers. If we can help to educate them on all of these difference social spheres and how they impact people, then we are likely to have a positive impact when they go into the workforce.”

Volunteers Mastewal Gezahegn and Victor Mack believe that all UNC Charlotte students should be required to participate in the poverty simulation. Bryant says that if all students were required to attend this program, along with other topics of the same nature, it would positively change the campus environment and give students a new frame for their education.

“For me, it was really an eye-opener,” said freshman participant Mikalah Hall. “Everybody should have to do this.”