Role-play puts Social Work students in shoes of poor

Nearly 75 students — juniors and seniors enrolled in UW-Green Bay’s undergraduate program in Social Work — took part in a poverty-simulation exercise Thursday afternoon (March 12) that dramatized the daily frustrations experienced by individuals and families.

The purpose of the exercise, held in the Alumni Rooms on the second level of the University Union, was to stimulate student thinking and awareness about the challenges people with limited resources may encounter as they try to improve their lives.

Assistant Prof. Doreen Higgins and Instructor Gail Trimberger say the first-time event was organized to enhance Social Work course content to reflect current economic conditions and rising poverty in Northeastern Wisconsin and across the nation.

UW-Extension staff members Judy Knudsen and Karen Early hosted the event. Students played the role of family members and individuals who needed help with balancing limited monthly resources and navigating community resources. Tables were set up in the Alumni Rooms. Each table represented an agency or service provider, with faculty members and senior-level students assuming the roles of service providers. Students, in their various assigned roles, were given scenarios which required them to go from table to table to apply for services, make loan payments, obtain childcare, find transportation and maintain basic living standards for their families.

Higgins and Trimberger say students remarked that they quickly became frustrated with the system’s red tape, lengthy waits for services, and a sense of being discriminated against by virtue of being poor. The faculty members say results of the exercise will be addressed in upcoming class sessions as students consider their future work as social workers.