For Ryan Kesselring, a fifth-year senior who is the social justice coordinator for the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, Social Justice Week is about more than just raising awareness – it’s about creating change by spreading knowledge about certain groups and their struggles.
To kick off Social Justice Week, the Butler Center hosted its 10th annual “Tunnel of Oppression,” an interactive museum-style exhibit showcasing the oppression faced by various marginalized groups.
“The goal is to take these issues and reach a larger audience,” said Kesselring, a triple major in political science, finance and economics. “We pride ourselves on being a very diverse university, so this is a place where you really get to see … What different student organizations are passionate about, how they portray the issues they are passionate about and really step outside of your comfort zone.”
The event dealt with issues such as human trafficking, pollution, racism, poverty, mental health and discrimination faced by the LGBT community. All of the exhibit’s content was chosen by UM students.
Guests wore headphones as they were taken through a guided tour of the exhibit. Each room was covered with newspaper clippings, personal anecdotes from victims of human trafficking and sexual assault and videos about each topic. Guests also had several opportunities to write down and share their own thoughts and personal experiences.
Kesselring said the exhibit offers a chance to learn about issues that most UM students haven’t experienced firsthand. He said groups such as SpectrUM offer many events throughout the year for its own members, but Social Justice Week is an opportunity for individuals not affiliated with the organization to learn about the struggles faced by the LGBTQ community.
Freshman Sarah Shanahan, a public health major, described the exhibit as both eye-opening and emotional. She said the exhibit on race was particularly powerful for her because it made her realize the often subtle ways that racism still persists in society. One of the videos in the room was about a racist prank pulled at Columbia University in New York where students pulled all of the name tags from the dorms of Chinese students.
“Even things that we don’t think about, especially being white, having a Chinese name and then having to have an American name just for convenience sake,” Shanahan said. “I never thought of that before, so that really made me at least want to try more in terms of using their real name.”
Freshman Kathryn Wells went to the event because her public health professor offered extra credit, but the exhibits ultimately impacted her.
“I encourage everybody to go,” said Wells, a nursing major. “It’s a really great experience.”
A full list of the The Butler Center’s Social Justice Week events can be found on its Facebook page. The Tunnel of Oppression will continue through Jan. 24.