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Tunnel vision opens eyes to oppression
Screaming, crying, cursing, and in-your-face confrontation made for an intimidating journey through Bradley’s 2009 Tunnel of Oppression, a student-sponsored November event most won’t forget. The Tunnel is a nationally acclaimed project that strives to give a voice to the oppressed, while spurring bystanders to interact with an open mind and heart.
“It was actually very scary to be yelled at and verbally mistreated … I had to keep reminding myself that it was only a simulation.”
Almost 1,100 people, campus and community wide, experienced the Tunnel of Oppression in a “transformed” Michel Student Center ballroom. The free tours lasted about 30 minutes, and a debriefing took place afterward.
In the Tunnel, participants were guided through an interactive, simulated, and daunting experience, including a variety of role-playing scenarios, video clips, and activities designed to expose participants to ableism, war, ageism, religious persecution, child abuse, racism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, homophobia, and police brutality, all of which culminated in a call to action. “There were many statistics and facts that made the topics more intense, because these are all things that we hear about, but once you are bombarded with the information you actually begin to feel things,” said KOFI JONES ’12.
Participants are exposed to the experiences of many oppressed groups. Racial and sexual slurs blare over the sound system, shocking statistics and photographs of the abused and their abusers plaster the walls, and Tunnel volunteers confront observers. It is a sensory overload, forcing participants to experience oppression themselves. In response to a skit where participants were treated like illegal immigrants being caught crossing the border, CAROLE GAFFNEY ’12 remarked, “It was actually very scary to be yelled at and verbally mistreated. I wanted it to stop. I felt belittled, and I had to keep reminding myself that it was only a simulation. I’m Mexican-American, so that skit was probably what hit me the hardest.” Jones agreed with Gaffney’s assessment, adding, “It was a bit too realistic having someone in my face yelling at me about green cards and calling me derogatory names. I really felt as if I were an immigrant.”
The Tunnel aims to challenge participants to view each other with empathy and understanding, to stimulate discussion and potential solutions for oppression, and to process feelings and thoughts in a group setting with facilitators present.
More than 100 student volunteers came from an array of campus organizations and groups, such as the NAACP, Greek life, the Garrett Cultural Center, and residence halls. Harambee, a student group formed in 2003 to raise awareness about oppression, and the Garrett Cultural Center sponsored the Tunnel. The Center’s director, FRANCES JONES, MA ’01, was the event’s academic adviser. Volunteers collaborated in groups for media, acting, art and design, tour guides, research, and publicity. “The walls were all built by students,” explained graduate student ELLEN HANSON ’09, vice president of Harambee. “Also, all the skits that are seen throughout the Tunnel have been created and acted by students.” Sound, lighting, taping off the room floor, and the debriefing were all done by professional staff who volunteered their time to the Tunnel.
Hanson, Harambee president TEE JOHNSON ’10, and Frances Jones met frequently to discuss which topics to incorporate into the Tunnel. Their decisions were based upon current events and issues that are most relevant to Bradley’s campus. “This year’s event is very different from the past. We have added new skits and props, and there are new themes that have never been used before,” Hanson said. Though some of the walls were reused, the facts and designs were updated.
“After finishing the Tunnel, I felt an array of emotions. I was scared, excited, saddened, and proud to have completed the experience,” Kofi Jones said.