February 19, 2009

Tunnel of Oppression open Feb. 23-26

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Discrimination and oppression are everyday realities for some people. An upcoming event at Southern Illinois University Carbondale offers a chance to experience first-hand how victims feel.

The Tunnel of Oppression, part of Black American History Month activities on campus, is coming to the lower level of Grinnell Hall each evening Feb. 23-26. The first of the half-hour tours starts at 5 p.m. each day and the last kicks off at 8 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.

Volunteers, predominately from registered student organizations at SIUC, fashion the thematic rooms that comprise the Tunnel of Oppression. This year’s tunnel is more expansive than ever, according to Alfred Jackson, assistant director of University Housing Education and Outreach. Usually, there are about four active scenes and other visuals, but this year, plans call for six or seven active settings, he said. Walking through the tunnel, visitors will see, feel, and experience, if just for a few minutes, what it’s like to be discriminated against, oppressed, mocked and downtrodden.

“All senses will be accosted to allow participants to experience the oppression and discrimination some people live with every day,” Jackson said.

In previous years, the featured topics have included race, gender, body image, social class, physical ability, and sexual orientation. The topics are a surprise each year and may or may not be repeats from previous years. One never knows when walking into a room just what will happen there. Will they find themselves in the middle of a human auction, hearing their physical traits discussed in detail? Will they find themselves in a corner because of their eye-color or hairstyle?

“You hear about discrimination. You hear about oppression. But many times, you don’t really feel it,” Jackson said. “This interactive piece allows you to experience firsthand, to a limited degree, what others experience often, perhaps every day, as discrimination or oppression. The topics will be a surprise but we can tell you it will take you outside of your comfort zone. Totally.”

Jackson said participants experience a wide range of emotions.

“It provokes conversation,” Jackson said. “It’s enlightening even for me. I learn something every time I go through this. It’s a very impactful, thought-provoking thing.”

At the tunnel’s end, counselors will meet briefly with tour groups, giving them a chance to discuss their feelings and experiences, an opportunity to process what transpired and its impact on them.

University Housing’s Education and Outreach and the Black Togetherness Organization are sponsors for the Tunnel of Oppression. There’s no cost for participants but tour groups are limited to 15 people at a time, so organizers strongly encourage reservations for the tours that leave promptly at the hour and half-hour. To reserve a time slot, call 618/536-2054 Monday through Thursday between 1 and 4 p.m. or e-mail dwats2@siu.edu with your name, number in your group and your preferred tour start times. Be sure you’re there at least 10 minutes before your reserved time though. Otherwise, since there’s always a waiting list and walk-ins, you’ll likely lose your spot. The tunnel was so popular last year, some visitors had to be turned away.

“Although we focus on the college students, we have community groups and people from around the area who come through. It is open to anyone who dares expose himself to being uncomfortable,” Jackson said.