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The Blue & Gray Press | January 20, 2019

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Thought You Knew: False Poverty Offends Tastes

Can we take a moment to acknowledge that there are probably better ways to help poor people than pretending to be poor?

It seems like the hungry, the homeless and the barefoot people of the world would benefit a lot more from actual assistance, rather than whatever it is they get when a bunch of liberal arts kids decide to stop showering and sleep under some tarps for a week-long authentic poverty experience.

At the end of the week you get to return to your comfortable life with showers, cell phones and a new sense of self-righteousness.

Choosing to be poor for a week is not only ineffective at solving any real problems, but it’s also kind of insulting.

I understand that the purpose of events like this week’s $2 a day challenge and the TOMS Day Without Shoes, which took place on April 2, is to raise awareness, but, honestly, is there anyone out there who’s unaware of the fact that poor people exist,  and everyone in the position to help should do so?

I can’t completely knock the $2 challenge because the participants do raise money during their little experiment with poverty, but I still don’t quite get why they also need to imitate the people they’re raising money for.

The organization’s website says it’s to “engender empathy,” but if you have to play dress-up with your friends in order to truly feel bad for people who are less fortunate than you, you should consider sensitivity training.

Doesn’t a picture of a barefoot child with flies buzzing around his face make you feel bad enough to take action?

Do you really need to attempt to recreate another person’s very real, very tragic suffering in order to empathize with them?

Personally, I came to college so I wouldn’t have to live in a box, not so I could make believe that I do.If you want to help, do something that’s actually helpful.

There’s no need for sweeping, attention-seeking gestures designed to “raise awareness.”

“Raising awareness” is a lazy cop-out for people who’d prefer to talk about generating change, instead of doing anything useful.

Who really benefits when privileged college students elect to spend one week of the year challenging themselves to live off of $2 a day, just to see what it’s like?

Certainly not the billions of people who are forced to live like that for 52 weeks a year.

Stop advertising how charitable you’re being and just help people because you feel like it’s the right thing to do.

Donate your money to organizations that assist those in need (these organizations will accept your donations, even if you didn’t subsist off of rice and superiority for a week).

Better yet, donate your time. There are a ton of groups on campus that actually do things, like go on builds or put together care packages for the needy.

Or you could just, you know, walk around barefoot for a few hours, once it stops raining, if it’s not too cold.

But, make sure you pack some over-priced, trendy canvas slip-ons in your bag because you might not be allowed inside the dining hall.


  1. Susannah Clark

    Jordan Kroll: This is golden. Your best yet. Thank you for articulating something I’ve thought for years but never had the balls to say.

  2. Susannah Clark

    (I just hope people don’t read this as satire….)

  3. concerned

    you’re right, jordan. we shouldn’t do anything to raise awareness about poor people. they’re all lazy hobos who can’t get sober enough to get out of poverty, anyway.

  4. Arnold

    As usual I agree with Dr. Kroll’s points, although I think he misses a key benefit from the $2 a day challenge. This time of year, many seniors are preparing themselves for the harsh realities of the real world and hoping to find gainful employment in this job market, but the reality is that many will fail. This challenge prepares us for the harsh realities that await us after college, and gives us valid experience on our future…well it’s not exactly a career, but “endeavors.”

    If you could please contact me when this correction is made I would be most appreciative.

  5. Jenny

    Dear Concerned,
    You’re one of “them” right???

  6. Jenny

    Jordan Kroll, you have an amazing ability to cut to the chase. You are correct, yet again. Good Job and well written.

  7. Humberta

    This might turn out to be a controversial article since you’re obviously just an ogling foot fetishist only concerned with people’s bare, dirty feet. However, I agree with this article and the point that it is making. As someone who struggles to get actual involvement within volunteering excursions (such as tutoring, food bank stocking, babysitting, or house building) within the Fredericksburg community, I wish that everyone would just take one day out of their semester and help out in a tangible way. It’s really not that hard and it does make a difference, however slight you might think it to be. Yes, awareness is very important but it’s what you do with this awareness that counts.

    And by the way, that shrine in my closet dedicated to you, Mr. Kroll, is totally justified. You’re funnier than Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, and, my personal hero, Shirley Temple combined.

  8. Maybe people will finally give you that forum you’ve always wanted.

  9. Anonymous

    Hey “concerned”. Explain to me how playing homeless helps? You all have your clothes, your books, your beds back in the dorm (even if you don’t use them), your food (saw some of you guys using the stoves in the dorm to cook food), tarps, posts on campus to hang them up, etc. etc. etc. How about you all just try a shock tactic another way, or help out those that you’re trying to portray. This isn’t doing it.

    By the way, I’m going to call you out on a sarcasm-fail.

    Good article, Jordan.

  10. O. Snark

    Mr. Kroll–I have two words for you: yes, and thank you.

    Maybe we should buy a tent and have the next bonfire on Ball Circle? Too bad the hipsters beat us to it.

  11. Anonymous

    HEY ARNOLD! (haha, I knew that show would come in handy)
    In all honesty, how does living under a tarp and living off of 2 dollars a day show what people have in store for the future. Point is, if you work hard in college and do what you’re supposed to (make connections, intern, get good grades, etc.), you won’t be experiencing living off of ends meet and walking around in Pretendland without shoes. People will only fail when they give up. Are you that pessimistic, or are you simply portraying your own goals onto others? (attack attack attack)

    Consider this your contact.

  12. meow

    Mr. Kroll is a genius. Meow.

  13. Martha

    Well how about this: explain to me how it hurts. We’re having a discussion about poverty right now, which is something we weren’t doing two weeks ago so obviously it’s bringing attention to the cause.

    On the other hand, how does Mr. Kroll making sarcastic comments help the homeless? They can’t feed/bathe themselves with your sarcasm, but maybe the money we’ve raised from this $2 challenge will help.

  14. Arnold

    Anonymous wrote:

    “People will only fail when they give up. Are you that pessimistic, or are you simply portraying your own goals onto others?”

    Yeah! Homeless people all deserve it because they gave up. If you work hard and practice your stick-to-it-iveness you will succeed.

    Although I might suggest it also might help if you rid your lexicon of phrases like “you won’t be experiencing living off of ends meet.” What exactly was that supposed to mean anyway?

    I still await my response from Dr. Kroll.

  15. Allie Atkeson

    Jordan Kroll, I thought you knew, I thought you knew about the $2 dollar challenge. Not only did you not interview any of the participants, but you obviously did not do your research. If you had, you would know that on Tuesday night all of the participants read Ivan Illich’s speech, To Hell with Good Intentions ( and discussed the merits of aid and philanthropy. We also discussed the unrealistic ability to truly empathize with the population that does live on two dollars a day. So no, we are not just “playing dress-up with our friends in order to truly feel bad for people who are less fortunate than us.”
    Martha knows, she made an excellent point that at the very least the challenge is creating a discussion about poverty and raising some money. Currently, the $2 challenge has raised over $640 dollars for La Ceiba, a microfinance institution run by students here at UMW. La Ceiba supports women in El Progreso, Honduras through microloans while educating community members on business practices. Since the birth of La Ceiba at UMW 3 years ago, $10,000 dollars has been given out in loans.
    La Ceiba is a branch of Students Helping Honduras, another group that was started at Mary Washington. Last year, UMW SHH raised $25,000 to build an education center in Villa Soleada. This same education center is where women are educated on business techniques by La Ceiba members and where the youth of Villa Soleada are educated daily.
    Did you know that many of the participants are members of these organizations, studying economics with a passion for development or just want to be a part of the experience? Why are those not the facts being shared? What does scoffing at a bunch of kids that are trying to create change do? What did you think you knew about the $2 dollar challenge?
    I am not participating in the challenge as an act of selflessness or “self-righteousness,” but to experience sharing a shelter and meals with other passionate students. So yes, “there are a ton of groups on campus that actually do things” and while La Ceiba and SHH don’t “put together care packages for the needy”, they are creating sustainable, lasting change in an area of the world that needs it most. So, Jordan Kroll, before you publish in a column titled “thought you knew,” maybe you should get the facts.

  16. Dearest readers,

    To those of you who claim that scoffing at a bunch of college students doing something silly, this comment is directed towards you. We, being the internet community, would like to say thank you for the donations that you have accumulated by doing your make-believe homelessness. Raising 640 dollars in a week is indeed an exemplary deed.

    However, I believe you are misinterpreting Jordan’s article. In it, she does not claim that you are not doing a good job. It is simply stating that what you are doing is not the most productive thing that could raise awareness for your cause’s situation. Why not keep your jars outside and inform people, where clearly this shock and awe tactic is not working among the student body. 640 dollars is indeed an impressive amount, but at what cost does it come to the student body? I do not feel like looking at a group of tarps while a group of college students are “acting” as homeless. I’m sorry, but that is bullcrap. It is a slap to the face of people who are actually homeless, as well as to people living in those conditions. What right do you have in trying to imitate people who ave those hardships in real life? Granted you may be doing a lot of good, but it all gets shown like a game. It may not be to you all, but tell me how it isn’t?

    You would not have the lawn chairs if you were living off of two dollars a day. You would not have certain amenities that I have seen the students using outside. So you may raise the money, but you do not help the cause.

  17. Anne

    I can’t tell if this article is a joke or not. Are you being serious?

  18. Anonymous

    Dead serious. This is what journalists should do. Bring about the general consensus of the public to any form of media.

    Also, I hope it rains again.

  19. Anne

    Sup Anonymous, I was asking the author. Check her previous articles, she is not always serious.

  20. Rebecca Black

    Calm down, its FRIDAY. Why you guys worrying about these kids eating rice and sleeping under tarps. Challenge ends at 4:00pm and then its FUN FUN FUN..

  21. Anonymous

    This one should be pretty obvious, though.

    Check out some of the quotes:

    “Doesn’t a picture of a barefoot child with flies buzzing around his face make you feel bad enough to take action?”

    “Do you really need to attempt to recreate another person’s very real, very tragic suffering in order to empathize with them?”

    “Stop advertising how charitable you’re being and just help people because you feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

    This is just her telling the people to stop showing off to people how humble they are. Actions speak louder than words, and donating your time directly is more important than living under a tarp.

  22. Matt

    I have to agree with the article. This came to mind when I saw someone out there presumably doing homework — on a MacBook. The first thought I had was how stupid this is that people are pretending to live on $2 a day but can still have access to expensive personal technology. We have a library if there was something really needed for a class. And if it was one of the participants’ friends with the computer, it’s just serving to make the whole thing look that much more foolish.

    If they want to do a $2 a day challenge they should forget about being outside and what can/can’t be used — instead be required to give the other $20+ a day they would normally spend on everything and give that as donations to help people who don’t have a choice.

    Living on $2 a day shouldn’t be “what of my things am I allowed to use” it should be realizing “wow there isn’t money to do ____ so I have to make a change”.

  23. Josh

    In 2009 there were 43 million people in the United States living in poverty. 43. Million. That’s about 14% of the population.

    Why raise money and awareness for the impoverished only to send it out of the country? I wish Honduras well, but as a U.S. citizen I feel that the poor on our own soil, in our own neighborhoods, should take precedence. This country is not in very good shape right now. Can we afford to put the plight of the global community ahead of our own?

  24. The only bad thing about this challenge was that my minions couldn’t have access to electricity to listen to Radiohead’s new album, “The King of Limbs”. Nobody else understands how passionate they are. They didn’t buy American Apparel (TM) shirts and TOMS (TM) shoes, nor did they plaster their $2,500 MacBook Pro (TM) laptops with “Save Haiti” stickers, just to project an image. Do you guys realize HOW COLD it was some of those nights? Some of the students found that their $250 The North Face (TM) jackets had to be supplemented with a light blanket in order to keep warm. Also, how can we fault them for going indoors when it rained? What would any impoverished individual do in that same situation? Run to the nearest shelter with heating and electricity that they had access to!

  25. Megan


    What you keep failing to mention is that much of this week WAS spent taking action and raising money for La Ceiba Microfinance, as Allie thoroughly explained earlier. Do you honestly think that serving soup or bringing together “care packages” will do more to help the impoverished than providing loans or a market so that the poor can develop their own business endeavors and become more sustainable in the long run? If so, you do not have enough background knowledge in development to be making any type of claim on what we “should” be doing. Read the article Allie referred to in her post. When those pre-packaged cookies you sent are gone or that well you donated money to build breaks, what are those people left with?

    As for the snarky comments about living on $2/day and using certain amenities such as lawn chairs – have you been to an impoverished area? I think you’d be surprised -many in Latin America have cell phones.

    However, that is besides the point – if you actually took the time to come up to any of us and asked us why we were doing this, not one of us would have said that we were replicating a realistic impoverished state. We are our own best critics, and we beat you to it. Study up on some international development, however, and you’ll realize that your claims to “take action” may do more harm than good if executed incorrectly – and many organizations fail to understand this.

    In the meantime – it didn’t rain. Sorry about it.

  26. Arnold

    I didn’t see anyone living under the tarps this morning when I was walking to class. I can only assume that they were all shamed by Dr. Kroll’s article and gave up their activities.

    Shame on you Dr. Kroll for putting an end to one of the few examples of social outreach that happens on this campus. As much as you obviously care about the less fortunate (and it’s clear that you do care quite a bit from your work), you damaged the cause with this column.

  27. Arnold

    By the way – somebody writes a column about sundresses and we immediately organize a campus forum to discuss the important issue of “Are women fun to look at”, but Dr. Kroll mocks the efforts of those to bring attention to the increasing poverty problem in Fredericksburg (and around the world) and you can hear a pin drop from the faculty response. That says a lot about the priorities of UMW. Apparently caring about diversity only means caring about physical characteristics of those who are seen on campus walk and not the variety of socioeconomic characteristics that make up the greater community beyond our insular world.

    Shame on you UMW.

  28. Peter Wingrove

    Why does it matter why the students chose to participate? I am sure many, if not most, of the participants, had at least partly selfish reasons for participating, but so what if they did. Even if they were only doing it to show off and feel self righteous, would that make the money they raised any less valuable?

    Even if these students raised only about $15 each, that is certainly more money than I donated to a foreign country this week. Honestly Jordan, how much time and money did you donate this week? And how much of that was for purely altruistic reasons?

  29. Sam

    Is there really so much time and money going towards world issues that we need to criticize how people go about their fundraising? At the end of the day this was a group of students who devoted their time to raise $640 dollars for a good cause.

    You suggest that instead, people simply donate their money to organizations that “asist those in need”…what a wonderful, unrealistic idea Jordan. I hate to break it to you, but in the world we live in today most people don’t just donate money when they feel like it. It takes (if I may use your words) “sweeping, attention-seeking gestures” to get people to care enough to help out.

    And let me just say for the record that no, actually, a picture of a barefoot child with flies buzzing around its face isn’t enough to prompt action. What a stupid thing to say.

    Thank you for your enlightening contribution to the UMW community and the overall plight of world hunger and poverty, but Jordan, please find something actually worth complaining about.

  30. BRaad

    Jordan is a girl, not a mr, nor a dr, for that matter.

  31. Anonymous

    Now then, I would like you all to take notes on this. This is called the proper “tearing of a new…” You can finish the phrase.

    Where in the hell did I mention anything about soup or cookies?? By taking action, why don’t you aid them by getting the money WITHOUT pretending to be homeless. You can raise awareness by other means, and you would still get the donations. This is just offensive.

    As for my “snarky” comments about those chairs, and your “snarky” comment about cell phones, I would also like to point out that homeless people in the US have alcohol and narcotics. Your point is invalid. Sometimes, phones are given out for an incredibly cheap price in order to aid those people in getting jobs. Where do your Macbooks aid in that? Would everyone really have a laptop in an impoverished area of Mexico? Why would I have to travel out of the country to see impoverishment. I’d like to bring up Josh’s valid point: you don’t have to leave the country to see impoverishment. Just look around the states.

    Serving soup most certainly does help, and saying otherwise would be a slap to the face of the homeless, of the volunteers, and of the organizations that provide it. What makes your cause so much more worthy than anyone else’s?

    ” We are our own best critics, and we beat you to it.” Please explain this to me, and how it is at all relevant to the conversation?

    And on a final note, they may do it wrong, but you’re doing it equally wrong. It’s ok, I know that you’re only a group of college students and not some multi-million dollar corporation that would know the answers to everything. However, I would expect you to know some boundaries of how to act, as well as what other people’s perceptions would be. Jordan is obviously not the only one who has this sentiment.

    Also, it did rain. Sadly, just a little too late.

    Your Favorite Troll
    Anonymous <3

  32. Anonymous

    Oh, also, just to be an ass, I’ll leave you with one last comment on a previous response.

    “When those pre-packaged cookies you sent are gone or that well you donated money to build breaks, what are those people left with?” – Megan

    They get to keep the packaging and the stones…duhh.

  33. Anon

    Its too bad everyone who has a solution for everything is at home commenting on the internet.

  34. Anonymous

    Not a bad thing, false anon.

    I’m just here to point out the flaws of society. By doing so, this allows others to come to conclusions and quite possibly solutions.

    People always say to use your strengths in order to bring about change. Writing off of the top of my head IS my strength. I write anonymously, because as you can see, nobody will agree with your opinion. Instead of being attacked or thought differently for my ideas, I can come across with things that people will take offensively. This is either because the truth hits close to home, or I mean for it to be offensive. You should see all of the things that don’t get posted due to the moderation process.

  35. Anonymous

    And by nobody, I should say *not everyone.

    For as great of a strength as this is, there are some weaknesses. Grammar and word choice typically tends to be the greater ones.

    And now, to make this comment relevant to the chat so it doesn’t get deleted:

  36. Brad

    See, instead of commenting anonymously, I’ve developed my own personal digital identity-pen name. It’s helped me cope with the barrier of virtual and reality, and as that barrier has blended and dissolved, so have I.

  37. Anonymous

    From now on, I should call myself Steve. This way, my virtual and reality will cross and my name will forever be changed to Ste-(insert portion of real name here).

    However, I have been told by Stephen Hawking that should I do this, a rip in the time space continuum would open up right above Seacobeck and begin to spit out alien lifeforms known as Furbies. This has happened before in the 1990’s, and we all saw how terrible that was…

  38. JJ

    The impoverished represent a spectrum of various backgrounds: PHDs, BA/BS, high school education, high school dropouts and some with only a middle school education. some did not choose to be homeless because they did not work hard- circumstances place them in their predicament- mental illness, layoffs, and other things out of their control.