| Gretchen Burns reporter |
One wouldn’t expect to see words like “fag,” “retarded,” “rapist,” “coon,” “wetback”, “chink,” or “jungle bunny” on a college campus, but that’s exactly what happened as students, faculty and community members entered the Tunnel of Oppression on Tuesday, March 4, and Wednesday, March 5, in the East and West Kansas Rooms of Overman Student Center.
The Tunnel of Oppression, sponsored by multiple student organizations, was an interactive experience where students entered a sequence of rooms designed to create awareness of different types of oppression and its effects within society and the campus community.
“I think the tunnel was a fantastic event to put on,” said Mary Butler, junior in psychology and president of Gay Straight Alliance. “It was a really eye-opening experience, especially in the rooms where I personally haven’t been affected by that kind of oppression.”
At the completion of the tunnel, participants were able to process their experience with trained counselors. They also received resources on how to help eliminate or work toward alleviating some of the oppressions they learned about.
“There are millions of ways people are oppressed and we need to recognize them,” Butler said.
Entering the Tunnel, hateful words like “fag,” “queer,” “Burn in Hell Fags,” and “Fags Doom Us All” greeted the eye, along with photos of the Westboro Baptist church holding hateful signs during one of its many protests. Videos showing hate crimes suffered by the LGBTQ community around the world were also played.
In the next section of the tunnel the Student Accommodations center placed words including “stupid,” “lazy,” “retarded,” “idiot” and “you ride the short bus.”
“I decided for our part of the tunnel we should acknowledge that there are students on our campus as well as other schools that have learning disabilities,” Tami Hennigh, coordinator for Student Accommodations, said. “These students aren’t lazy or stupid or slow. We want to be an advocate for those students.”
In the Students for Violence Prevention section, different clothes and accessories were displayed with quotes on paper next to them
One such display included a hoodie, shorts and a textbook. The quote said, “They were wearing this when they were sexually assaulted. And doing this. Should we blame them for what happened?”
Beside it was a second display containing a white dress, a pair of high heels, lipstick and nail polish with the same question.
Other quotes could be seen throughout the section from anonymous victims of assault. Many of the quotes said their victims felt it was their fault, or they deserved it, or they were asking for it the way they were dressed.
Some quotes also spoke about how the present culture has set the idea that it is never the rapist’s fault but the victims. Members of Students for Violence Prevention say they want to change that misconception.
A total of 264 computer-generated images of children illustrating one-fifth of the children available for adoption in the state of Kansas greeted participants in the next section.
A mattress faced the viewing area with statistics on these children, such as 6.2 percent of them are currently in foster care and are there because of sexual abuse and 75 percent of siblings in foster care end up separated from each other.
Jennifer Katzer, senior in English, says she felt that the Tunnel of Oppression was a great learning experience for those to better themselves to help each other.
“I think it’s so important for all students to experience it because so much of what the tunnel exposes usually flies under the radar,” Katzer said.
Other sections in the tunnel included Gorillas In Your Midst’s mental health awareness and International Justice Mission’s facts on human trafficking and slavery around the world.
“The topics the tunnel discusses are real human experiences, and if we are going to better understand one another as human beings, then it is important that we take the time to truly understand those around us,” Katzer said. The experiences we saw in the tunnel helped us be better people and really strive for change.”
Skits and videos were performed and viewed during the evening hours of the event that touched upon many of the topics brought up in the tunnel.
“I really enjoyed the videos that were shown, and I feel like they were eye-opening to quite a few people,” said Geri Tisdale, senior in social work, “ I heard people gasp during one of them. I like the tunnel and the different areas it covered. LGBT rights, mental illness, etc.”
Maria Thompson, assistant director of the Office of Student Diversity, says she feels the Tunnel of Oppression this year was different from the Wall of Oppression that was displayed last year. For future years, she would like to see international students and religion play a role in the event.
“You can actually experience and see the videos and sayings,” she said. “Every person has a part in the world. You just have to step up and do your part and make everyone aware.”