The second Annual UNC-Greensboro Tunnel of Oppression was held in the Elliot University Center on Wednesday, March 31.
As a collection of multimedia and skits in the Cone Ballroom, the Tunnel of Oppression project aims to “highlight contemporary issues of oppression,” according to the Office of Intercultural Engagement FAQ.
Through presentations on prejudice, the event hopes to raise awareness of oppression through bias, and to consequently expand the worldviews of tour guests.
The event, in cooperation between the Office of Housing and Residence Life and the Office of Intercultural Engagement, was organized by a four-member team, consisting of two graduates and two professionals.
“Our goal is getting people out there and seeing that there’s bias in this world,” said team member and Philip-Hawkins HRL Coordinator Li Miles.
The experience consisted of five categories: Racial Bias, Gender, Rape Culture, Religion and Mental Health. Each had its own space blocked off by walls and curtains, which groups were led through by a guide.
The tour began with a wall covered in slurs, extending to racial, gender and sexuality-based insults.
Immediately following was the Gender segment, which focused on the recently passed House Bill 2 and how it affected students on campus.
The section consisted of a video by “Now This,” a New York City-based news group specializing in short-form news videos. The short film emphasized the negative effects involved in the controversial “bathroom law” and its negative impact on transgendered students.
A sketch on mental health was next, set up in a dorm room mockup complete with bed, desk and laptop. The lone player narrated her struggles with self-effacing inner dialogue, depression and negative self-image, calling her illness the “monster in my head.”
“But the monster is not who I am,” read the concluding line.
The segment on race consisted of a video presentation with people holding signs and speaking about microaggressions, which are minor racially-charged phrases that degrade members of the group.
These phrases seem innocuous to the speaker but often carry damaging sentiments and connotations.
The segment indicated that even intended compliments can have unfortunate implications. After showing the video, the guide encouraged viewers to think more carefully about what they say to people who are different from themselves.
The section concluded with an opportunity for participants to write down microaggressions experienced in day-to-day life.
The Sexual Assault segment consisted of a second skit, acted by two women who portrayed friends.
The scene took place after a party, during which a mutual friend had been assaulted while intoxicated, with one of the pair passing it off as the friend being promiscuous. Consequently, the protagonist did not confide in her friend for fear of negative judgement.
The skit emphasized that how people talk around friends can deeply affect them, from tone to the use of slurs. In cases like the one presented in the skit, it can make people less open to discussing their traumatic experiences.
The Religion section solely involved Buzzfeed video featuring Muslim hijabi women from various places around the world. They discussed various stereotypes commonly encountered, some on a near-daily basis.
Many felt reduced to being “just the hijab” when people talked to them and expressed hurt and outrage at being expected to answer for extremist acts.
A debriefing segment followed the tour’s conclusion, with the group sitting down to discuss what had been seen, felt and learned from the Tunnel’s experience.
The discussion began with “One Word Check-In,” with tour guests stating their impression using one word.
“Thoughtful,” “Insightful,” and “Reflective” were all used in description.
From there, the discussion shifted to more general questions and answers. Much of the dialogue consisted of constructive feedback, with the moderators periodically shifting focus back to what was learned.
“How do we go deeper?” asked the moderator. “How do we talk about ideas?”
Common criticisms included a perceived lack of depth in the mental health and religion sections, as well as a lack of set pieces representing sexuality. Others noted some actors read their lines off a script, feeling that this broke the immersion.
“Reading off a script isn’t the same as living the story,” commented one participant.
The segment concluded with the group discussing which section of the Tunnel was the most individually-challenging. The microaggressions video, depression segment and HB2 presentation seemed most powerful for the audience, with this tour being how one participant learned of the recent law.
Miles hopes that the Tunnel will raise awareness about bias and prejudice in the world and how they contribute to oppression.
“Are you talking about [oppression]?” Miles asked in conclusion. “Are you making a change that matters?”