Centers & Institute

Social Exclusion Simulation Gives Participants ‘Heartfelt, Human Experience’

Have you ever put yourself in the shoes of someone who is trying to overcome societal barriers after incarceration? Most likely, you haven’t — at least not in the same way you would while participating in Adler University’s Social Exclusion Simulation.

Spearheaded by the university’s Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, the simulation is an experiential learning tool that shows participants what it might actually feel like to re-enter society after being released from prison.

Each participant takes on the role of an individual in that situation, with his or her own specific story and experience, and is given a set of tasks to complete during the three-hour session. The simulation reveals what a book or film often cannot: The feeling of being socially excluded and facing monumental, systemic barriers.

Open to Adler University students, faculty and staff members, and the public, the Social Exclusion Simulation is designed to address the gap in understanding around social exclusion — particularly as it relates to the ongoing denial of access to opportunities, rights, and resources for people who have been incarcerated.

Each participant comes to the simulation with different expectations, experiences, and understanding. Virtually all agree that the exercise impacts their perceptions. For many, it changes the way they think about social structures and systemic barriers that make re-entering society so difficult.

“I had heard that people had intense reactions, but because I knew the framework, I was expecting it to be a quick three hours before going to class,” said one participant, a student pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. “I thought I was going to be immune to the effects of the simulation.”

Instead, she recalls feeling angry, aggravated and helpless.

“I felt a sense of injustice about my character,” she said. “I thought she wasn’t even a person who should be involved in our criminal justice system — my character is not some sort of violent criminal. How did her life turn out this way?”

Other participants referenced recidivism, systemic racism and oppression, saying they felt the experience was necessary for all clinicians to better understand barriers.

One student pursuing a master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis on clinical mental health expressed that the simulation changed her understanding of social exclusion.

“I came in with a cognitive understanding of what this means, through coursework and an interest, but I only connected cognitively,” she said. “This experience definitely brought in the heartfelt, human experience. It slapped you in the face with the injustice of it all, and it hit home much more than reading statistics. I can definitely say that I understand more about it because I’ve felt a tiny piece of what it might be like.”

Another Adler University Psy.D student cited the power in the nervous, uncomfortable feelings she experienced during the simulation.

“What made it meaningful for me is that sometimes it’s so different to have an emotional reaction to something,” she said. “In the classroom, we’re taking notes and not feeling an emotional response. The emotions stuck with me more than the details of it. I think this is really valuable, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The whole exercise helps you put a face to a name, rather than reading a statistic.”

Like others in the simulation, she also felt frustration during the process.

“So much was happening that wasn’t my character’s fault,” she said. “It was very cyclical — if you didn’t have one thing you couldn’t get the next. It didn’t matter if someone had good intentions or if they wanted to accomplish the tasks; the system is set up in a way that these things aren’t possible.”

A third Psy.D student said the experience said she felt changed by the experience.

“Coming in, I genuinely had no understanding for anyone that came out of jail; thinking that they deserved to be there, that it’s their fault,” she said. “But now, I see how difficult it can be for someone who is trying to better themselves and reintegrate themselves into society, and I think that if more people had a better understanding of what it’s really like for someone just coming out of jail, then we could work as a community to change the systems.”

Want to come try it for yourself! Learn first-hand how social structures can operate as you are systematically blocked from access to rights, opportunities, and resources such as employment, housing and health care.

Upcoming simulations include:

  • Thursday, Nov. 30, from 5 to 8 p.m.
  • Monday, Feb. 19, from 9 a.m. to noon
  • Thursday, April 12, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Attendance is free but an RSVP is required due to the nature of the program and limited number of participants. To register, please email Misty Brown at All simulations take place at Adler University, 17 N. Dearborn St.