Banquet Fosters Dialogue on Hunger

To encourage students to confront hunger and homelessness, the Draper Center for Community Partnerships held its annual Hunger Banquet on March 1 in Edmunds Ballroom at Pomona College. Madeline Cowen PO '16, the principal organizer of the event, said that the dinner was an interactive simulation designed to promote dialogue about issues related to hunger and homelessness, including access to food and income disparity.

The simulation began after the screening of a short video about differences in access to food around the world.

At the entrance, each student was randomly assigned a character from one of three income groups—high, middle, and low—and played out scenarios that had been planted in the script as part of the event preparation.

“Perhaps the farm that they were working at, maybe there was a big drought and so the food prices were really high [and] they couldn’t afford to buy anything, so then we invited them to move down to the lower class," Cowen said.

Attendees sat and were treated separately according to their income groups. The high-income group was served and got to eat salad with nice silverware and cloth napkins, the middle-income group had to serve themselves but still had chairs to sit on, and the low-income group could only sit on the floor and eat plain rice. The attendees were then assigned to discussion groups to share their views.

At the end of the banquet, students could sign up to participate with on-campus and off-campus service groups.

“Our intention for this event was not to let people come to it, learn about hunger and homelessness, think that they now experienced what is it like to be low-income, and believe that they have done their part," Cowen said. "That’s not sufficient." 

Instead, Cowen said that the goal was to “inform them, let them interact with each other in this exaggerated dynamic, and then give them opportunities and information to be able to follow up on it and take action.”