Understanding Privilege: Welfare is an Investment in People, Not a Burden

by Merrilee Bufkin


I hate seeing college students who know everything about their discipline but lack the exposure to empathize with those less fortunate. Although not everyone on college campuses has money, most of those who are endowed with extra means have been shown to display less empathy . Since our current capitalist system doesn’t allow for a complete restructuring of wealth, we should focus on teaching those with money how to understand their privilege.

Having an academic focus on the liberal arts and humanities is a great start, but students need to be directly confronted with the reality of others’ situations. Many poverty classes run simulations that make participants budget and live as someone in poverty does. This sort of immersive learning lets the students begin to empathize with those with lesser means, thus these students will truly understand what it means to ”go without” like those in poverty so often have to do.

Still, there are a few pitfalls that must be avoided in instituting something as such. Students need to be taught the nuance of money flow, how our social services work, and the truth about things like welfare and disability. This should not be an ideologically led class, because it’s easy to try to come up with solutions for these problems when you follow an ideology’s logic. Students should be allowed to form their own ideas and thoughts about possible solutions, instead of being told that capitalism, socialism, or any other form of economics would work “best.”

One of the most important things that students must learn is how small the impact of welfare and disability is on our current budget. Although just a video game, Democracy 3 offers a budget simulation that shows, in fairly accurate numbers, America’s spending habits. When students see the effects of poverty on the system and how little the system does to fight it sometimes, they should have a better understanding of their own role in the system as part of a wealthier community. This sort of education would not be to guilt those with money, or to make them feel isolated or “bad.” Its focus would instead lie in creating a picture for students to refer to when referencing their own privilege. They need to, as educated members of this society, understand the largest problems facing them currently, and understand how they might be a part of that problem.