First-Year Students Look at Poverty, Access to Justice Issues During Orientation

August 27, 2019

Texas A&M University School of Law ​incoming students participated in a "Poverty Simulation" during Orientation last week. Conducted by the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the simulation's purpose, according to the Commission, was to give students a "small taste of what life is like on a limited income." Participants faced challenges that frequently plague families with limited resources, and they were asked to note thoughts and emotions for a discussion following the simulation.

Poverty Simulation 2019First-year Aggie Law students participate in the Texas Access to Justice "Poverty Simulation"
In the simulation, one hour represented one month's time, and students had to survive by:

  • Keeping their housing secure
  • Buying the required amount of food each week
  • Keeping utilities on
  • Making all payments
  • Responding appropriately to unexpected factors
  • Keeping infants in daycare and school-age children in school

"This is not a game," said Shawna Smith-Thornton of ​Texas A&M Law's student affairs office. "Millions face these challenges every day."

Family profiles were distributed, and participants were asked to assess if their housing was too small for their families or if their neighborhoods were overcrowded. Some households received government assistance and had checks enclosed in their family packets. Picture cards represented belongings; and in some instances, families had to pawn or sell items to pay bills.

Those individuals with jobs had to go to work to receive a paycheck, while arranging for daycare and transportation. Finally, expenses had to be paid at the beginning of the month with delinquency becoming a reality after the third week, if not earlier. Community resources for transportation, food, banking, legal aid, housing, health care and utilities were also available for families. 

Yet, as in real life, vendors were impatient and resources scarce--all things that budding law students needed to experience.

"I participated and then facilitated a debrief of a small group of students the next day. They gained some great insights. Glad we were able to do this as part of 1L orientation." said Bob Probasco, senior lecturer and director of Texas A&M's Low Income Tax Clinic.

In addition to the poverty simulation, the week-long incoming-student Orientation included:

  • Convocation and Oath with the Law School Dean, Robert B. Ahdieh, as well as leaders from the judiciary, State Bar of Texas, Texas Young Lawyers Association, Tarrant County Bar Association and Dallas Association of Young Lawyers
  • Declaration of Intent to Study Law led by directors from Texas Lawyers Assistance Program and Texas Board of Law Examiners
  • Panel on "Discovering your Professional Identity"
  • Discussion on "Breaking Bias"
  • "2019 Aggie Law Project" -- community service projects around Fort Worth
  • Academic Support Program presentation
  • Instructional tour of the Dee J. Kelly Law Library
  • Jump start on their first-year classes