Tunnels of Oppression expose ‘privileged’ students to 'dehumanization'

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

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  • Several schools are hosting “Tunnels of Oppression,” where students experience simulated acts of racism, misogyny, and more so that they can “recognize their own privilege.”
  • The nature of the event varies from place to place, but generally involves interactive experiences intended to evoke "strong emotions" from "privileged" students.
  • Several schools are hosting “Tunnels of Oppression,” where students experience simulated acts of racism, misogyny, and more so that they can “recognize their own privilege.”

    Lee University’s Residential Life and Housing and Student Leadership Council will be hosting its fourth annual iteration of the event on Friday, during which participants will go on an interactive tour that exposes them to a different type of oppression in each room, including ”racial, sexual, mental, and societal oppression.”

    “Oppression does not stop because its victims are uncomfortable...it is part of the simulated experience.”   

    [RELATED: Northeastern tells RAs that white men can’t be oppressed]

    “At Lee, we’re in a bubble, and the Tunnel of Oppression helped provide insight to topics I had never personally encountered,” Lee alumna Mia Campbell told The Lee Clarion. “It’s a safe place to engage with the surrounding community.”

    Other schools host their own versions of the Tunnel, as well, though the exact nature of the exercise varies.

    A video from the 2010 Tunnel of Oppression at Southern Illinois University, for instance, shows students being subjected to verbal abuse by university employees.

    “Get the fuck up!” a black male employee is seen shouting at a white female student. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

    Later in the video, two actors simulate a struggle between a white man and a police officer. The white man pushes the police officer and yells “fuck you” before he is wrestled to the ground.

    Washington State University Residence Life, which held its own Tunnel of Oppression from January 29-31, opted to make its version a “museum format” where “visitors will move at their own pace through different rooms themed to controversial topics.”

    [RELATED: UCF hosts ‘Social Justice Week’ to address racism, deportation]

    “We want to role model for people what good, mature dialogue looks like in an environment where everyone can feel safe,” explained Brandon Brackett, assistant director of Residence Life. “The Tunnel of Oppression will expose you to new ideas and perspectives, and hopefully prime the pump that will set you on a new path of self-discovery.”

    Alternatively, students who attend a Tunnel of Oppression at Texas Tech University on February 6 “will encounter first-hand different forms of oppression” through student monologues, interactive acting scenes, and multimedia presentations.

    The topics chosen for the TTU tunnel include privilege, body image, racism, homelessness, and ethnocentrism.

    According to the TTU website, the Tunnel of Oppression was started in 1993 at Western Illinois University, with the goal of exposing privileged people to oppression through interactive experiences that evoke “strong emotions.”

    [RELATED: USC ‘Consent Carnival’ features bounce house sex simulation]

    “People may have never been placed in these types of situations, and they obtain a sense of what it may feel like to experience discrimination or oppression,” TTU writes.

    Boise State University, who held its annual Tunnel of Oppression back in November, chose to model an even more extreme version of the event portrayed at SIU, explaining that the exercise is not intended to be comfortable for participants.

    “The Tunnel of Oppression attempts to recreate such feelings by having the guides create an environment where participants can actually feel disoriented, dehumanized, and uncomfortable,” BSU asserts. “Oppression does not stop because its victims are uncomfortable or tired, and it does not respect personal boundaries. While the experience is not always pleasant, it is part of the simulated experience.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey



    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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