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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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Students and administration engage in activism and empathy through the Two Dollar Challenge

Students and administration engage in activism and empathy through the Two Dollar Challenge


For the ninth consecutive year, students at the University of Mary Washington participated in the Two Dollar Challenge last week. Though founded at UMW, this year students on 20 other campuses throughout the country participated as well.

Economics Professor Shawn Humphrey founded the Two Dollar Challenge in 2006 as an activity for his students. As part of the exercise, students are challenged to experience some of the struggles a person living in poverty may face on a daily basis.

On Monday, a group of students set up the large cardboard shelter on Ball Circle using only recycled materials. Students taking part in the challenge then inhabited the shelter for the remainder of the week.

According to James Hutcheson, a senior economics major and president of the Two Dollar Challenge, “the only item we purchased for the shelter was the tarp when it rained on Wednesday.”

During the week, students participating in the Two Dollar Challenge attend their classes and have readings specific for the challenge that they participate in. There are discussions each night about the readings, and workshops are also held throughout the week.

According to the event’s website, “By asking you to live on $2 a day, we hope to push you outside your comfort zone to critically engage with, and empathetically reevaluate global poverty and your role in its end.”

One of the focuses for the Two Dollar Challenge was to engage other campuses for a meaningful experience.

“We started planning for the national movement about two years ago,” said Hutchinson. “In August, we sent out about 3,000 emails to a variety of campuses across the country. It picked up again in January when we started having meetings almost every day.”

Eight students from UMW run the Two Dollar Challenge, and it now partners with multiple organizations, including Oxfam America and Results.

One of the largest difficulties that students faced was going through their daily activities without having eaten enough that day.

For Courtney Prentice, a senior political science major, the biggest difficulty of the week was “doing schoolwork on top of having a job in addition to changing my living situation and having to continue normal life while eating unhealthy and small amounts of food and sleeping poorly every night.”

The Two Dollar Challenge aims to be an educational experience for the participants.

“Participating in the two dollar challenge was definitely an eye-opening experience,” said Nicole Scotti, a junior international affairs major and economics minor. “It wasn’t until I was able to sleep in my own bed again, where I was all cuddled up in my blankets, had a nice comfy pillow to rest my head on and in my warm, cozy room where I really reflected on how privileged I really am.”

This year, President Rick Hurley and his cabinet also participated in the Two Dollar Challenge.

“I participated in the challenge at the beginner level, which basically meant I tried to live on two dollars a day for food and essentials. I also had dinner with the group camping on Ball Circle,” said Hurley.

A change to the challenge for this year is that students were able to participate by using the apps Two Dollar Challenge and Reacht.

These apps were created and developed by UMW students and served as tools throughout the week to track expenses and income, as well as record their thoughts and reflections.

Another feature of the app are the notifications of sudden ‘shocks,’ be it environmental like a natural disaster or economic.

“Because the app would give me these random ‘shocks’ where I would lose money, meaning I had to live on less than $2, it allowed us to experience what it is like to have your income randomized and not know if we would even have enough money to buy food for that day,” said Scotti.

People participating in the Two Dollar Challenge emphasized the importance of it as a learning experience.

“The Two Dollar Challenge was definitely an experimental learning process for me,” said Scotti. “It allowed me to put myself in the shoes of those living in poverty and better understand the life of the world’s 48 percent who live on less than $2 a day.”