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School of Social Work Hosts Poverty Simulation

June 12, 2023

School of Social Work Hosts Poverty Simulation

Living in poverty is stressful. This was one of the lessons learned by Will Rogers College High School students who participated in a “Poverty Simulation” hosted by the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work on the OU-Tulsa campus last month. 

The participatory learning experience was held in Founders Hall. The 45 students who attended were assigned into “families” of one to five people, given a detailed scenario for their family, then asked to accomplish tasks such as working a job, paying bills, attending school, and more all while navigating specific poverty-related challenges. 

"It was stressful,” said Jamaica, a participant. “Like when I was at work I couldn't even focus on my work because I was thinking, ‘Is the grandpa going to pay the bills? Is he going to pass out because he didn't get his insulin? Can we afford the insulin?’"

Nic Dubriwny, MSW, LCSW, OU-Tulsa social work faculty member, recognizes the accuracy of Jamaica’s feelings and how the simulation gives an accurate picture of a life in poverty.

“I think that the poverty simulation accurately presents the types of decisions that families, who are living in poverty, have to make. Where whichever option they choose, there's a negative outcome on the other side in some other area of their life,” he said.

Many of the participant groups had negative outcomes by the end of the simulation, including some getting evicted. A group debrief was held at the end to discuss lessons learned and ways that systems might be adjusted to assist families experiencing these issues. 

“The goal of the poverty simulation is to demonstrate how systems currently in place can actively work against families experiencing poverty,” said Dubriwny. “We want these students to understand how down the road they can make a difference in their communities in changing some of these realities.”


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