Like playing a real-time game of “Life,” more than 50 students, faculty and staff experienced what it’s like to be poor and raise a family in Virginia.
For two hours on Oct. 16, the Chesapeake Campus Student Center became Realville, with low-income “families” living and working to survive during four 15-minute “weeks.” The simulation was held to raise awareness of basic needs and insecurities faced by community college students across the nation.
New national data, collected by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), shows that two in three students are food insecure. In addition, one in two students are housing insecure and 13 percent are homeless. To meet the basic needs of all TCC students, the Chesapeake Campus Student Government Association, members of Phi Theta Kappa and faculty and staff are launching an initiative this spring, which will include:
- A food pantry located in the Whitehurst Building opening in a newly designed space. Students will be able to come at specific times and get food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and care kits with essentials for basic hygiene.
- A service learning project with college and community volunteers packaging highly nutritious meals for hunger relief through the Rise Against Hunger organization.
- A 5K run to raise awareness of food insecurities of students.
“Our campus is proud to be part of the solution for so many students,” said Lisa Rhine, provost of the Chesapeake Campus. “I know what it’s like to grow up with little and struggle to get through school. It really is a privilege to do this work.”
The simulation was a chance for TCC students, faculty and staff to face many of the insecurities behind the national statistics. Participants were encouraged to think outside the box and do what they had to do to support the family in the exercise led by Karen Munden with Virginia Cooperative Extension and funded by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.
In navigating daily living, the “families” went to work and school, while shopping, banking, paying bills and seeking social services.
Some families were even evicted from their homes. “It felt terrible to have nowhere to go,” said student Sherese Card, who played the role of a teenage girl. “It was especially embarrassing because it happened while I was babysitting. Life got real with my mom gone and dad in jail.”
When the exercised was complete, Munden asked the group members who felt stressed. Almost every hand raised.
“I think as teachers, we have to have more compassion when we see students coming in late to class or having trouble with assignments,” said Kyndra Brown, who teaches developmental math. “We really have no idea what they are facing.”
Student Bryce Dalton added, “It’s stressful taking care of kids who are not listening to you. Today made me realize that it’s harder for others than it’s been for me. I have to keep that in mind once I’m working and do my part to help out.”
At the conclusion of the simulation, Lt. Steven Jenkins with the Portsmouth Police Department, who served as the officer in the Realville jail, noted, “No matter what problem being faced by a family member, I was expected to have the answers. That plays out in my real job, too.”
Diane Ryan, dean of humanities and social sciences, who played the role of a disabled family member, called the simulation eye-opening. “I found out that food is not that easy to come by and that to get social services, you have to spend a lot of time in lines. I found myself leaving the kids home alone, so I could wait in more lines. I never would have done that when raising my two kids.”