On Monday, Feb. 27, UNCG held its third annual Tunnel of Oppression in the Cone Ballroom of the Elliot University Center. Lasting from 12-6 p.m., the event was facilitated by the Office of Intercultural Engagement and led by student volunteers.
Upon arrival at the tunnel of oppression, volunteers collect a person’s information to register them for the event before they are allowed to proceed. After registration, students are led to the Cone Ballroom as volunteers began to lead guided groups of about 20 students through each segmented event in the tunnel of oppression.
The tunnel of oppression began in a dark space separated by black curtains, the first thing students heard were the sounds of a video and the first thing students saw was a screen discussing President Trump’s recent ban on Muslim immigrants from entering the United States.
The second portion of the tunnel was similarly lit, and as students entered they were met by a small light in the corner of the room, which illuminated a black woman sitting in an armchair. Beside the woman was a mirror and a blanket throw, the setting intending to evoke a private space, as she held an IPAD to mimic a notepad diary or journal as she began to speak.
This portion of the tunnel was by far one of the most powerful, as the woman in the chair spoke what sounded like a recitation of a deeply personal poem about mental illness and her experiences with the stigmatization of mental illness as a black woman.
The next portion of the tunnel featured three signs which read information regarding civil rights throughout the history of the United States and voting rights in recent years specifically pertaining to the state of North Carolina.
The third portion of the tunnel was a skit intended to highlight issues of biphobia and transphobia in the LGBT community. This was, however, not a particularly deep or meaningful experience as a member of the LGBT community, as it seemed to frame these issues as solely the fault of gay and lesbian people.
While clearly well-intentioned, the premise of only gay and lesbian people excluding bisexual people from LGBT spaces specifically for being bisexual perpetuates the concept that biphobia is primarily enacted by gay and lesbian people, and neglected to highlight that bisexual people are also able to perpetuate homophobia against gay and lesbian people.
Throughout the skit there was also the implication that gay and lesbian people have a monopoly on being transphobic, which I felt displaced blame from other cisgender members of the community onto just the cisgender lesbian and gay members. It was not particularly nuanced, nor an accurate portrayal of the primary perpetrators of homophobia and biphobia which face the LGBT community.
The next two skits depicted particularly graphic scenarios regarding sexual assault and rape, and their message regarding the hegemony of rape culture and how common this is seen on college campuses is clear, it felt a bit tactless to not warn students before entering the tunnel of oppression that it would deal with the topics of rape and sexual assault.
Many members of the group cringed and grimaced throughout these segments, clearly uncomfortable by the degree of detail these scenarios went into regarding rape and sexual assault. In not warning students about these segments beforehand, there is the potential for it to trigger those who walk through the tunnel of oppression.
After these segments, the tunnel of oppression drew to a close.
Students were taken into another dark room that held pictures on the wall of black women on campus with signs reading: “I matter,” in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In this room students were told to line up and stand forward when asked if they experienced certain forms of religious discrimination. This was intended to highlight issues of Islamophobia facing Muslim Americans in this country.
The group of students was then taken to the final segment, which projected a Youtube video of the history of the civil rights movement in America. The group of students were then led to a private area to discuss their feelings and “debrief” on their experiences throughout the tunnel of oppression. For those who wish to organize with future tunnels of oppression, they can contact Shara Cotton at firstname.lastname@example.org and Meredith Atchision at email@example.com.