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Susquehanna Students to Get a Brief Taste of Poverty

Published on November 7, 2011

An expected 90 Susquehanna University students, faculty and staff will learn what it means to go hungry by participating in the school’s Hunger Banquet Nov. 14, an event designed to illuminate experiences of poverty among those who usually take food for granted. A program of Oxfam America, part of an international confederation that works to relieve poverty, suffering and injustice, the Hunger Banquet is sponsored by Susquehanna’s Center for Civic Engagement and Center for Diversity and Social Justice.

Event participants will be randomly assigned identities, such as American businessman or Ethiopian farmer, that then determine attendant income and what kind of meal they will receive. Reflecting global poverty statistics, 15 percent will be assigned to a high-income group that enjoys a full meal—spaghetti, sauce, salad and drink—served at a cloth-covered table. Thirty-five percent will be deemed middle class and eat their meal of rice, beans and water in chairs with no table. The 58 percent who are assigned to the impoverished group must sit on the floor and share a meager meal of rice and water. Two student representatives will lead a discussion among participants about what it means, and how it feels, to be in different economic circumstances, while a faculty member provides context for the experience.

“[The banquet] is a way for students to step outside of themselves,” said Jay Helmer, director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “It’s a way for students to understand where they are, most days, in comparison to the rest of the world. Even though some citizens may feel deprived, Americans [as a whole] are still better off.”

Helmer said predicting one’s response to the experience can be difficult, and that typical reactions range from shock, to guilt, to anger. A period of debriefing in small groups helps to process the array of emotions and channel them productively. For example, students will be offered opportunities to get involved in local programs that provide food and shelter to those in need.

Such service is central to Susquehanna University's mission. The Center for Civic Engagement is the hub of social responsibility at Susquehanna, with programs ranging from fund drives, to training events, to volunteer activities and service learning. The goal is to help create engaged, enlightened and reflective citizens with a lifelong passion for service. 

The Center for Diversity and Social Justice provides support to minority students while fostering diversity across campus. The center's offerings include guest speakers and entertainers, mentoring, support for student-run affinity groups, and a fellowship for rising juniors and seniors interested in social justice, among other programs.


Karen M. Jones


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