RIT Urban Poverty class ‘adopts’ local family for the holidays

Students learn about the power of giving back to the community

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Students in Jessica Pardee’s Urban Poverty class play an online game to grasp some understanding of what it’s like to raise a family while living in poverty—but this holiday season, the students know that for those struggling with poverty locally, this isn’t a game at all.

That’s why Pardee, assistant professor and urban and community studies program coordinator in RIT’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, suggested that her students adopt a family for the holidays through the Rush-Henrietta Area Food Terminal’s Holiday Food Basket program.

Pardee has been accepting clothing donations and hopes to collect about $100 from her students that she will use to buy food for the family. For Pardee, the experiences of their adopted family hit close to home.

“I received free and reduced-price school lunches my whole life,” Pardee says. “My family was receiving food baskets at the holidays, but the fact that my school offered advanced-placement classes and a competitive curriculum allowed me to get an excellent education. Without the structure of a good education, I can’t guarantee I would have had entry into a competitive college, despite my hard work. Without it, I might be among those with a college education and a soon-to-end unemployment check. We can’t control job markets, and they do affect us. If we want to reduce poverty, we must acknowledge structure.”

To increase student awareness about poverty, Pardee asks her students to play Spent, an online game developed to get users to think about the challenges faced by a working, low-income family that struggles each month to pay bills. The goal is to make it through the month with enough money for the following month’s rent. The game creates scenarios reflecting real-life occurrences like weddings, funerals, illnesses, tending to children’s needs and missing work. According to Pardee, the game forces players to assess how they would choose between options and how to prioritize needs when there isn’t enough money to cover all of the expenses.

“With the mortgage crisis and weak job market many students face now, living in poverty is something that could happen to any of us—even families who seem very stable,” says Pardee. “While public conversations about poverty have focused on individual reasons, the truth is that the way we structure our society has tremendous effects on even the most motivated individual.”