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Video: Students feel poverty’s pull at ISU event

For one day only, Raven Davidson ’14 was a criminal.

The Illinois State graduate student played the “criminal” role for the School of Social Work’s recent poverty simulation. As 56 undergraduate students split into fake families for a daylong exercise about what it’s like to live in poverty, Davidson’s character was there to coerce them into money-making illegal behavior—and steal from them too.

Davidson herself went through the simulation as an undergraduate student, majoring in social work. She learned firsthand how hard it is for low-income families to survive, especially if they have multiple children, disabilities, or are largely dependent on government assistance.

“It really opened my eyes to what my clients go through, and it made me more sympathetic and able to show empathy toward them in the field,” Davidson, who helped plan this fall’s simulation on October 14. She’s now enrolled in the School of Social Work’s graduate program.

During the elaborate simulation, the student “families” had to work with several community resources and services, such as a pawn shop, school system, or community action agency, all represented by volunteers. As they tried to make it through four 15-minute “weeks” in poverty, they were pulled in all directions by unexpected challenges, strained household budgets, and role players like Davidson’s criminal.

The simulation is primarily for ISU students who plan to pursue a career in social work or related fields. It ends with a debriefing period in which all participants share their feelings and experiences.

Watch video of the Social of Social Work’s poverty simulation above.

Bob Tomaski can be reached at Ryan Denham can be reached at


For many people it is hard to understand how it is to live in poverty. But there are cases when life crushes and one needs to be ready to everything. From the other hand such actions awake compassion. Anyway good job!

I grew up in poverty so I have first hand experience. The only thing that keeps one from becoming a thief is good family morals and extended family members and community members willing to step in and assist when necessary.