Capital students venture on The Empathy Experiment

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

A university can teach students to chart socio-economic growth in an urban neighborhood, prescribe proper medication to a patient with diabetes, and manage accounts for a nonprofit group.

But can a school really teach someone how to identify with the impoverished? Can empathy be learned?

Capital University decided to find out.

In November, the school chose six students to participate in The Empathy Experiment, an immersive experience designed to foster in-depth understanding of an issue affecting the community.

This year's project looked at the struggles faced by the working poor.

"I'm interested in, through service, having a bigger impact on our community," said Capital President Denvy Bowman, the project's driving force. "It occurred to me that the next logical question was to explore how we move from being sympathetic to empathetic. Empathy opens minds, solves problems and increases communication."

For six weeks, students worked with area organizations that provide housing, food and other services to Central Ohio's poor families. They also faced regular challenges, like being evicted from the dorms for 24 hours.

"We were working with people who were very poor, and some of them were our age," said Diana Crandall, a freshman from Hilliard studying psychology and criminology. "There was a very thin line between being a college student, having money and having support - and being on the street."

In addition to blogging about the experiment, Crandall and her colleagues met regularly to discuss what they learned and diagram new approaches. They'll share this with the public Monday night during a free program at Mees Hall.

"I appreciate everything more now than I did," Crandall explained. "Even if it doesn't change my career, it's made me a very aware person of things going on around me."

Capital University students Ben Ferree (left), Diana Crandall and Liz Delfing discuss The Empathy Experiment.

Mees Hall

5 p.m. Monday, April 25

2199 E. Main St., Bexley