Oftentimes, it would seem that the worst cases of malicious oppression happen in distant countries and far-away lands. One event will allow hundreds of students to experience the consequences of pressing human issues here on campus.
This week, Tunnel of Oppression will give students the chance to walk through a variety of rooms to be exposed to visual and audio experiences of first-hand encounters with the worst aspects of social injustices.
“Tunnel of Oppression is a sensory-based learning experience where students go through and get exposed to different challenges and different tools that people use to oppress in the world today,” said freshman Ryan Schooley, the community and volunteer chairman of Tunnel of Oppression’s executive board. “It’s basically so we can spread awareness about these issues and inspire someone to get out and change it.”
The event began as a result of a $10,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in 2008. Originally, the grant was for an event tailored to discussing Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations.
Over 70 colleges and universities across the country host Tunnel of Oppression.
Since the grant was spent, the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership (SLC) has continued to fund the organization.
Different areas of the ballrooms are devoted to specific issues. The rooms display topics of oppression against people with disabilities or that have undergone sexual assault, personal body image problems, Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transsexual-Queer discrimination, religious persecution, racism, poverty, inadequate education and other social issues.
About 450 students experienced Tunnel of Oppression in 2008, and about 500 did so in 2009, according to Brittany Tedeschi, executive board chair and founder.
“The main point of [it] is to raise awareness of different issues going on in the world, and give participants a way to see the issues rather than read about them through statistics,” she said.
The reflection wall allows students to share their experiences and is accessible at the end of the event.
“We had people who wrote on the reflection wall: ‘That was me in that room’,” Tedeschi said.
Before entering Tunnel of Oppression, participants are asked to turn off their cell phones and other noise-making devices.
“For 20 minutes you have to pay attention to what’s in the rooms,” Tedeschi said. “You can’t turn away from it.”
Among those organizations who are helping set up rooms are No Zebras, Kids and Culture, SpectrUM, Catholic Students Association and Minority Women in Medicine.
According to Tedeschi, UM’s Tunnel of Oppression is unique because of the amount of participation from student organizations. Other Tunnel of Oppression events across the country aren’t as interactive or as dependent on one’s multiple senses.
“What I think is unique about our [event] that other schools don’t have is that [others] are more science-fair-like and you choose what issues you go to,” she said. “You have to experience everything, you have to listen to what everyone is saying, and it’s put on by student organizations.”
Ramon Galiana may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.