February 17, 2010

Tunnel of Oppression offers learning experience

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Oppression, prejudice and discrimination aren’t just words. Participants at the Tunnel of Oppression at Southern Illinois University Carbondale next week will experience those concepts as reality.

The interactive experience in diversity is from 5 to 9 each night Feb. 22-25 in Grinnell Hall’s lower level. There is no cost to attend and the tunnel is open to the public.

“We talk about discrimination and oppression, but definitions are vague and subjective to one’s own interpretation. The tunnel allows students to portray their version of the subject and participants get to experience oppression and discrimination firsthand. To a limited degree, it’s what others experience often, perhaps every day,” said Alfred Jackson, education and outreach coordinator for University Housing. “It is our intention for the tunnel to provoke conversation. Once we allow others inside our personal space, the synergy that evolves has the capacity to change all of us for the better.”

The tunnel is actually a series of rooms, each with its own theme. Volunteers from registered student organizations and community groups work their magic, transforming each room to depict issues such as racism, ageism, homophobia, gender bias, domestic violence or discrimination on the basis of body image, race, culture, class, ability and even physical ability. Visitors will experience for themselves what some people encounter and feel perhaps every day of their lives, Jackson said.

For instance, in the real world, a Caucasian may never experience prejudice or bigotry because of his or her color or race. But in the Tunnel of Oppression, because of a physical trait they can’t change, like their height or eye color, they could endure mocking, laughter or prejudicial treatment. Even if for just a few moments, they’ll encounter oppression, hatred and discrimination, not because of who they are but because of some trait they possess.

The tunnel is an audience-participation event and a true sensory experience, Jackson said, with the goal of opening eyes to what goes on in the world and how it affects individual people and cultures. And, beyond that, Jackson said the hope is that after visiting the Tunnel of Oppression, participants will view one another with more empathy and understanding.

“Each year the tunnel introduces something new and different. Even with some themes being repeated, the outcome of the interaction creates a difference experience,” Jackson said.

The Tunnel of Oppression tour takes about 30 minutes and tours start every half-hour. Each tour is limited to a maximum of 18 people and last year the event reached its maximum of 138 visitors. For this, the fourth consecutive year of the event, organizers increased the number of people who can participate in each tour but they again anticipate there will be a full house each evening. To reserve a time slot, e-mail jld1@siu.edu or call 618/536-2054 and give your preferred three times and dates that you would like to take the tour.

At the end of the eye-opening tour, participants can participate in a debriefing with representatives from the SIUC Wellness Center and Counseling Center. University Housing and the Black Togetherness Organizer are sponsors for the Tunnel of Oppression.