English 1050 students often participate in innovative activities through the many service-learning courses at UNCP. Professor Hannah Baggott Anderson organized a Hunger Banquet involving over 100 composition students in six classes on October 9, 2019. The event was sponsored by UNCP’s Office for Community and Civic Engagement and the CARE Resource Center. English 1050 students in the service-learning courses taught by Anderson and Dr. Autumn Lauzon engaged in a simulation to show the inequality of wealth distribution and how poverty and hunger affect communities around the world.
During the Hunger Banquet, students received an assigned character as they entered with a designated social "class" (upper, middle, or lower), and they could text a number to read the story behind their character. All of these stories were based on actual events. During the event, Anderson and Lauzon highlighted statistics related to poverty around the world. In addition, the simulation involved role playing in which students' “stories” allowed them to “rise” to the middle class or move to the lower class. These changes in socioeconomic status were sometimes due to changes in employment in which simulated corporations cut their jobs. Also, some characters experienced natural disasters that destroyed agricultural assets.
Student Lindsey Nichols said, "I started as middle class in the banquet, but I was moved to lower class because all of my crops died. So I didn't have income. It was shocking how quickly things could change!" Through the role playing, students got a better understanding of the complex dynamics of poverty.
The event culminated with a banquet, but not a traditional feast. The “upper class group” got cake and soda, the “middle class” received only bottles of water and packs of crackers, and the “lower class” (which was the largest) had to share a pitcher of water and one box of saltines. The most interesting part of the event was seeing how the upper class groups never offered to share with the other groups.
"What shocked me most was learning that women are more likely to be in poverty than men, and that wealth greatly affects your life expectancy," said student Lindsey Nichols.
“This event has opened my eyes to recognize that there is a problem and encouraged me to educate myself in order to help eradicate hunger and the separation of people by social class,” noted student Clavaria Jefferys.
The Hunger Banquet engaged students in an immersive experience, and it also gave them a chance to think about how they can be agents for change in our communities.