Students glimpse how the world’s other half lives

February 14, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau 

At least a few Grand Canyon University students might never see the Student Union’s north dining hall — or the meals they take there — the same way again after Thursday night.

The reason would be the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, which drew about two dozen students to the hall for an intriguing exercise that made a profound statement about the world’s haves and have-nots.

“This is a metaphor for how food and other resources are inequitably distributed throughout the world,” said Dr. Jennifer Jones, the GCU psychology professor who organized the event.

The north dining hall of the Student Union was the site of the Hunger Dinner, with GCU students sorted into middle class (foreground), lower class (on floor) and upper class (at tables in back).

The north dining hall of the Student Union was the site of the Hunger Banquet, with GCU students sorted into middle class (foreground), lower class (on floor) and upper class (at tables in back).

The statistics alone are startling: About 2.5 billion people in the world live in poverty, and about 870 million of them go hungry daily. But the event’s power came from an exercise in which students came through the door and promptly were handed a colored card that assigned them to a social class.

By the luck of the draw, those receiving a blue card represented the world’s upper class, the 20 percent who make more than $6,300 per year. A yellow card meant middle class (30 percent), a white card lower class (50 percent). The upper class was seated and served a meal of pasta and salad by a wait staff of volunteers, but the middle class stood in a buffet line for rice and beans.

The lower class sat on the floor, served only rice and water. No individual portions were available to them, and the classes were not allowed to mingle.

That wasn’t all. Jones then showed “Dollar Poverty,” a compelling documentary film made by four college-age men who went to Haiti only four months after the 2010 earthquake, each determined to live for one month on $1 a day – as most Haitians do. Although the four went to help with disaster relief, they quickly came to see poverty as Haiti’s unending disaster.

Captivated and convicted by the film, the students at the upper-class table couldn’t bear to touch their food.

“We live in ignorance of this,” said sophomore Kyler Troup, adding that he planned to ask Jones about how he can become involved. “It was shocking. A lot of people want to live as if this isn’t happening.”

The film held special interest for two students, sophomore Calie Donovan and junior Jamie Mitchell. Donovan went to Haiti for two weeks last June, and Mitchell will go there for a week during spring break with a student group from GCU.

On her visit, Donovan said she was moved by children who came to a Bible study and refused to eat, preferring instead to take food home in bags to family members.

“It’s so easy to hear about (hunger), but it’s hard to genuinely picture it and to put yourself in their shoes,” she said.

Mitchell, who never has been outside the United States, said she is prepared for an eye-opening experience. Her group of more than a dozen students is scheduled to work at a Haitian orphanage.

“Our job there is a lot bigger than we think it is,” she said. “It’s obviously to spread the news of Jesus, but it’s also to love on them.

“I’m very selfish, even about food. I want to be fed, and I don’t want to think about you not being fed.”

Jones, who had help from Assistant Dean Maria Quimba of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions in putting on the event, said she is interested in doing another Hunger Banquet later in the semester or early next school year.

She said her goal is to mobilize students, even if it is only on the local level.

“This adjusts your world view,” she said of the evening. “Watching (the students’) faces, you could see it had an effect. The people who were here got it.”

To learn more about Oxfam America, go to

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

About the Author
Leave a Comment