Poverty stereotypes challenged by Notre Dame students

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 15-6-2011

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



The perceived stereotype that individuals experiencing poverty in Australia are characterised by laziness, immorality and welfare dependency was challenged by a former University of Notre Dame student in a recently published journal by the Australian Psychological Society.

Ashleigh Owen’s article was one of four papers written by Behavioural Science students from the Fremantle Campus that were published in the April 2011 edition of The Australian Community Psychologist.

In 2009, 24 third-year Behavioural Science students were responsible for developing an academic research conference exploring the issue of poverty in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) as part of their Internship program.

Following the conference, Internship Coordinator, Ms Sharon McCarthy, encouraged students to have their successes promoted and negotiated with the journal’s editor, Dr Lauren Breen, to develop a special section in the publication dedicated to the innovative learning opportunities at Notre Dame.

In her paper, Ms Owen said the stigma associated with people living in poverty or on social benefits caused them psychological hardship and collective exclusion from the community.

Her theoretical paper found that the GFC forced a reconceptualisation of poverty as more people sought welfare after losing their jobs and experiencing cost of living increases.

“Australia is a welfare state and it should be yearning for every person to have equal rights and there seems to be a stigma that if you are living in poverty, it is your choice to be there,” Ms Owen said.

“The conference was about raising awareness of the issues surrounding poverty. How are we meant to change the situation if we don’t know these problems exist and why they are problematic?”

Notre Dame Honours’ student, Whitney Darlaston-Jones, investigated community currencies as a way of empowering underprivileged people socially and economically by enhancing their merit, self-worth and pride in society.

Community currencies seek to establish trading networks calculated by either virtual points or the hours spent performing tasks in a bid to increase productivity and build personal relationships.

“The easiest way to think about it is that it resembles Monopoly money – it has value only within that community’s currency,” Ms Darlaston-Jones said.

“This idea really fits the behavioural science model because it is developed by the community and it’s not something the Federal Government has to set up a team of experts to investigate.”

Jade Beavington and Stefanos Sifandos also had their articles published in the journal.

Mr Sifandos’ article was a personal reflection of experiencing poverty and homelessness first hand while conducting his placement at St Patricks Community Support Centre, while Ms Beavington examined the pedagogy underpinning the learning processes of the internship.

Media Contact: Leigh Dawson (+61) 8 9433 0569, Mob (+61) 0405 441 093