Although poverty may not seem like a reality here in Fairfield, it can be closer than one thinks.
Roughly 100 nursing students and nurses from the Veteran’s Association in West Haven filled the Oak Room on Thursday, Oct. 22 to participate in a poverty simulation run by the School of Nursing and the VA. The day-long simulation consisted of 26 simulated families of various make-ups living in poverty being played by students and nurses.
According to Anka Roberto, director of simulation in the SoN, the simulation demonstrated what it was like to live in poverty with a limited amount of money, food and resources. As part of the simulation, each participant was given an identity, such as a young parent, guardian or caretaker and must act out that role, such as by attending school or going to work. Participants must visit resources like the local food pantry, bank or welfare office and interact as their character. Participants are instructed to not break character throughout the simulation in order to make the event appear more realistic.
“This simulation was integral in our curriculum to allow for our wellness clinical students to understand barriers to healthcare, access to services and just how disruptions in care take place when people in poverty are in survival mode,” Roberto said.
Those assigned to be a member of the 26 families had to interact with various services such as social services, the bank, the police and other charitable organizations in order to survive week to week for a total of one month.
“The intent behind the simulation was to change perceptions of poverty, to allow for behavior change in working with folks living in poverty, particularly the veteran population,” Roberto said.
Roberto believes that the poverty simulation helped the nursing students and nurses empathize with the circumstances of the patients.
“The nursing students were impacted greatly by the experience, realizing the human desperation of survival in a society that does not allow for resource allocation to take place and limited advocacy,” Roberto said. “The nursing students had many take home messages during debrief; one student stated that she didn’t realize just how hard it was to navigate social services and other ‘supposed services.’”
The poverty simulation has also seen successful in other areas on campus. In 2013, former Service for Justice Area Coordinator Kate Bouzan participated in the simulation at the National Jesuit Student Leadership conference and brought it to Fairfield, feeling that the S4J community would benefit from it.
Since then, it has been used at Resident Assistant and New Student Leader trainings and is run during the second S4J retreat.
Carrie Robinson, assistant director of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and current S4J area coordinator, believes the simulation is putting the Jesuit values into action.
“It is important for students to go through this activity because it defines what it means to be a man or women for others. It allows students, specifically student leaders, to be able to see the life struggles that individuals are facing everyday. It gives them the ability to articulate this to any student that they work with,” she said.
Robinson also believes that the simulation can be used to create a dialogue about poverty on Fairfield’s campus.
“I think that students have a misconception that every student at Fairfield comes from a wealthier background, but that is not true. Many students open up during the debrief and say this was or is every day life for them and it really hits home with the students. They struggle in a simulation to pay their bills and some lose their homes, but this happens to individuals every day and this simulation really puts that into perspective for them,” Robinson said.
Junior Aimee Donohue, an S4J RA and former resident of the S4J residential college who participated in the simulation at the retreat last year, agrees with Robinson that the simulation illuminates the different backgrounds students at Fairfield come from.
“I think this simulation is a good reminder to everyone that poverty is not always obvious and [is] something that people face every day,” she said.
Junior John Silva, a nursing major who had also participated in a similar poverty simulation a few weeks ago, felt that he would be a better nurse because of it.
“This simulation helped me by showing me how difficult it was. I am much more empathetic towards impoverished people now,” he said.