Story by KRISTIN GALLAGHER, Business Manager—
The sound of a gunshot rang through the otherwise silent Union Ballroom Feb. 14. The shot was part of one of the several skits that made up the Tunnel of Oppression event that offered insight to different types of oppression to 150 students during Unity Week.
The event, hosted by the multicultural communication department, took place in the Union Ballroom where tour guides led students through a series of dimly lit tunnels representing different forms of oppression. The tunnels, constructed from large dividers covered in black paper and drapery, contained videos, audio and actors to provide scenarios of domestic violence, body image, racial slurs and suicide. A safety response team was there in case participants wanted to leave the tunnel.
“We want students to learn something, first and foremost,” said Luis Garay, graduate assistant in the Office of Community Engagement. “They are going to see [oppression] manifested in front of them.”
While some students were angry at what they saw in the tunnel, others cried knowing they had suffered the same kinds of oppression.
“A lot of students are shocked, “ Fajardo said about the reactions drawn from the event. “And a lot of them are survivors of such oppression.”
The first tunnel focused on domestic violence with a video recording of a young girl calling the police in distress during a fight between her parents. As the little girl screams at her father to stop, the conversation is cut off.
“I’m talking to the police mommy! Stop it! Stop it! No, mommy!” the girl says.
The tour guides presented facts and statistics on types and rates of domestic abuse within the United States and students were escorted to the next tunnel.
The second tunnel focused on body image with two actors, one boy and one girl, barefoot and dressed in black, standing on a platform facing away from each other. The two recited a skit about outward appearance, asking the questions, “Will I be pretty?” and “Will I be manly?”
The actors connected their unhappiness with their appearances to pressure from their parents and society.
The tour guide instructed students to view photos and advertisements placed on the walls of the second tunnel that depicted men and women of different sizes. Those that were thin, muscular and tan were described as ideal, while those that were not were chastised.
The actors then explained that the words “manly” and “pretty” were unworthy and that no one should be “chained to words.”
The demonstration ended with the words, “You will be loved,” as the actors placed mirrors in front of each student.
The third tunnel dealt with racism in its different forms, such as verbal, physical and emotional. Actors repeated racial slurs and the tour guide explained instances when students were bullied both physically and emotionally based on nationality. The tour guide explained that no university is free of racial discrimination.
The final tunnel depicted suicide with a young girl sitting at her desk writing her own suicide note. The tour guide quoted that every 15 minutes someone takes his or her own life.
The girl cried as she wrote a letter to her friends and parents. She apologized for being a disappointment to them and expressed her connection to death as her only true friend. The skit ended as the girl left the room.
The sound of a gunshot rang through the otherwise silent ballroom.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the tour was the debriefing where students responsed to what they had seen in the tunnel. Some were speechless, some were angry and others cried.
“I felt so sad,” one girl said. “I felt for the different experiences that happened in each room… that stuff happens everyday we just don’t acknowledge it. I felt so bad. “
Another student said he felt a sense of relief in the body image tunnel when the actors encouraged students to love themselves as they were.
“Using the mirrors was an attempt to actually resolve the issue of poor body image,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”
Another student said he could relate to the racism.
“I lived somewhere that was very ethnocentric… they told me my people [from Cambodia] suffered because we didn’t have Jesus. We didn’t have a God. It really upsets me… I am proud to be Cambodian.”
The segment closed with “A Pep Talk From Kid President,” a short video by an online group called Soulpancake, starring a young boy giving life advice. The slightly humorous, but still motivating, video featured the child dressed in a suit a locker room and football field setting.
The boy explained that if there are two roads in life, we should be taking the one “toward awesome.” He references Michael Jordan, saying that if he gave up on his journey, there never would have been a “Space Jam” movie.
“And I love Space Jam,” he said.
The video concludes with the boy telling the viewers that they are all made to be awesome.
“It’s everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance,” he said.
Participants were encouraged to write something on the Wall of Hope, a large piece of yellow paper that was taped on the wall. The quotes included: “Smile, you are worth it, “ and “Everybody falls down sometimes.”
The Tunnel of Oppression was sponsored by Student Activities, the Diversity Office, Greek Life, the Psychology Club, the International Student Office, the Counseling Center and SGA.
The Tunnel of Oppression elicited strong student reaction but that was not the main purpose.
“We just want every student to walk away learning something,” Fajardo said. ”We want them to be advocates, to stand up to spread the word.”