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Southern Partners With Police to Break Down Barriers

Southern Adventist University’s School of Social Work conducted its first poverty simulation this October in partnership with the Chattanooga Police Department. In total, 75 students, alumni, community partners, and police academy cadets participated in the exercise, which demonstrated what it would be like to live in poverty for a month.

Held at Chattanooga’s Family Justice Center, the three-hour exercise consisted of tables managed by Southern students representing different entities of a community, including a bank, social services offices, schools, stores, and law enforcement. In the center of the room, cadets, students, and community members each received a scenario card and an assumed identity; their goal was to survive while facing social challenges, such as being denied funding by the bank or threats of eviction from their home. 

“This simulation made me realize that there are so many people who are just trying to get by, and our communities take advantage of people living in poverty,” said Denise Angel, senior social work major. “As a social work student, it helped me see all the outside factors that impoverished people experience and gave me resources to use so I can help them in my future career.”

Having spent more than three years researching law enforcement in Chattanooga, Kristie Wilder, JD, dean of the School of Social Work and facilitator of the simulation, saw this as an ideal way to provide soft skills training to cadets.

“Our research has informed us that members of law enforcement want more trainings on soft skills,” she said. “Our goal is to respond to this data by providing a training program that is interdisciplinary and that positions everyone as teachers and learners. The poverty simulation is just one tool that will aid law enforcement and social workers with their interactions with people of poverty and color in a way that dignifies victims and offenders without compromising community safety.”

Caroline Huffaker, victim services coordinator for the Chattanooga Police Department, emphasized the importance of exposing cadets in the police academy to diversification and helping them become well-rounded police officers.

“This is our first cadet class that has gone through a poverty simulation, and we have received great feedback,” Huffaker said. “Moving forward, we will continue to partner with Southern to conduct simulations that will help our cadets.”