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March 30, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 14

Hunger banquet participants display the portions they received in correspondence with their assigned socioeconomic class: (L-R) Nicole Caragian '06 (poor), Frances Macias Phillips '07 (middle income) and David deBarros '06 (rich).

An Event with Some Thought for Food

Students hold 'banquet' to whet appetitites on hunger, poverty issues

Red, yellow and green were the primary colors at last Friday's "hunger banquet" in the Corcoran Commons Heights Room - but they had nothing to do with the decor.

The event, organized by Graduate School of Social Work students and the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, was a role-playing session - using a format devised by the relief and development agency Oxfam America - intended to spark awareness of global hunger and equity issues.

Each of the approximately 70 participants were handed a ticket that conferred upon them a socioeconomic status. Those who received a yellow ticket were in the highest income group, and were able to sit in a roped-off area intended to connote exclusivity; red relegated holders to the middle income bracket; green meant placement in the lowest income group, the largest of the three - and a seat on the floor.

Banquet co-organizer Allison Sandella, a member of the GSSW student group Common Ground, explained to participants the social, economic and political relationships between the three groups. While the rich could enjoy the benefits, possessions and privileges stemming from a high, reasonably secure income, she said, members of the middle group - although able to eke out a living - were vulnerable to setbacks that might place them in the poor class.

As a demonstration, Sandella enacted a scenario with six members each from the middle and poor classes. The six from the middle bracket, she said, had been fired from their jobs for protesting conditions at the factory where they worked. "You are now poor," she said, directing them to the low-income group. "And you guys," she added, pointing to the other six, "can take their place."

Shortly thereafter, the three groups went to separate serving areas to get their banquet. The rich brought back pasta and sauce, salad, bottled water and fruit juice, while the middle income group sat down for a meal of rice, beans and water. The poor were given a small helping of rice - and, belatedly, forks with which to eat.

During dinner, rich-class member Emily Krol '08 tried a small-scale redistribution of resources but was rebuffed. "I offered them some of mine, but they wouldn't take it," she said, nodding at several members of the poor group, including her roommate. "They really wanted to have the experience of being poor."

Participants said the role-playing helped them to better appreciate the socioeconomic realities of poverty and injustice.

"It definitely helped make it more real for me," said Angelica Grasso '08, as she scooped up the last of her rice by hand. "You hear about hunger and inequality a lot, but this event can put the subject in very real-life terms."

Krol agreed: "I don't feel 'guilty' for getting a bigger dinner than my roommate, because I know she can get something to eat later on. But looking at the bigger picture, yes, it is troubling that someone can have all this privilege and others have little or nothing."

Peggy Fox '08 and Eileen Brunelli, an Emmanuel College graduate student and friend of Sandella, who had been among the six poor reassigned to the middle class, contemplated the implications of their unexpected ascension.

"It was nice to be able to sit in a chair instead of on the floor," said Brunelli.

"Yeah," replied Fox, "but now we get to work in a sweat shop."

Interviewed earlier in the evening, Sandella said the banquet's purpose sought to reflect "the spirit of social justice that drives the social work profession and the Jesuit culture of BC. In the past couple of years, we've seen disasters both around the world and here in our own country that show how vulnerable we all are to hunger and starvation."

-Sean Smith

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