The Collegian
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Poverty simulation returns with increased space for participants

The Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of the Chaplaincy will host an interactive poverty simulation Oct. 7, designed to help participants understand the challenges faced by low-income families from month to month.

The poverty simulation, held in the Alice Haynes Room, has always been a joint effort between the CCE and Chaplaincy, said Adrienne Piazza, manager of educational initiatives and leadership development at the CCE. When the simulation was first introduced at University of Richmond eight years ago, both offices were significantly smaller, she said.

"We decided to join forces because both of us were committed to issues of social justice," Piazza said.

The poverty simulation is based on a kit from the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families. The task of each family is to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities during the simulation while interacting with various community resources staffed by low-income volunteers.

According to the Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS) website, the simulation enables participants to view poverty from different angles in an experiential setting.

When students enter the simulation, they are given a role based on an identity within the kit, said Bryn Taylor, director of spiritual formation at the chaplaincy. Before the simulation begins, participants are given some basic information about their family's income, housing situation and education levels, she said.

Tables are set up around the room representing various community services and resources, CCE fellow Shelby Longland said. Participants must visit the necessary social institutions--including a rent collector, bank, school, employer and others--to ensure survival until the next "month," Longland said.

Each "week" of simulation lasts around 20 minutes, Piazza said. The entire simulation lasts for a month and therefore runs for approximately an hour and 20 minutes, she said.

"Before the simulation begins, we always tell students that this is not a game," Piazza said. "It's not something we expect you to win or be really good at. It's a way to understand the complicated struggles of folks that are living in deep poverty."

In addition to employees of the CCE and the chaplaincy, simulation volunteers include members of Richmond's various community partnerships, Piazza said. Volunteers will play various roles in the low-income community and guide the debriefing sessions for participants after the simulation, she said.

This is the first year the simulation will be offered during both the fall and spring semesters. The overall goal is to provide more students with a chance to participate, Taylor said. In the past, the simulation was filled almost entirely by classes and faculty that required students to attend for academic reasons, Taylor said.

"It was important to both offices that the simulation be open more broadly," Taylor said.

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To attend the simulation, students must register via SpiderConnect. There are spots for approximately 85 participants, Longland said. There will be a waitlist if the sign-up reaches capacity.

"We really hope that students can think about the complex and interconnected social issues affecting our world today," Piazza said, "and also to understand the ways in which difference, privilege and power work in our own lives and in society."

Contact reporter Gaby Calabrese at

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