Take a walk down Grinnell hall in someone else’s shoes: Tunnel of Oppression returns to SIU

By Juniper Oxford, Staff Reporter

The Tunnel of Oppression, an interactive event where participants are invited to experience first hand what it is like for individuals who face discrimination or other forms of oppression, has returned to SIU for its 13th year.

The event happens from 5-8 p.m. through Feb. 13. and is located in Grinnell hall. Its purpose is to inform the audience about what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. 

Each year, there are 5-6 rooms where discrimination is shown on the basis of race, gender identity, financial status or other demographics.

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This is  the 4th year Travis Hardwick has been directing the Tunnel at SIU. The event is hosted by University Housing and the Black Togetherness Organization. 

“There are five different scenes that are each five minutes long, focusing on different communities that face discrimination and oppression,” Hardwick said. “Guests can go through that and take something away from the experience and see it from a different angle.”

 Each scene focuses on different ways in which individuals are oppressed. 

“This year the rooms we are looking at are body image, LGBTQ focusing on the transgender community, […] bias and discrimination, the fourth room is about homelessness and the last room is about gender based violence,” Hardwick said. 

After 25 minutes in the Tunnel, the attendees are taken to a debriefing room to process what they have seen. 

“The final part of it is what we call the Hope Room,” Hardwick said. “Within that is information about different local, regional and national organizations to help the guests know how to connect with those groups and to do something beyond this experience.”

It is H Holdman’s first year performing for the Tunnel of Oppression. Holdman is a senior studying animal science. Their performance was about the discrimination that transgender people face. 

“I think it is a good experience,” Holdman said. “I enjoyed volunteering and putting on an acting experience.” 

The room is about the discrimination transgender people deal with in regards to their name change. 

“I think with LGBTQ rights, a lot of people know the basic discrimination but with trans people specifically, the day to day struggle that trans people go through with just using their name, or getting people to use their name,” Holdman said. “I think not a lot of people understand that. In my room, we are trying to convey what that kind of discrimination looks like.” 

The Tunnel employed a method of “tipping” where attendees are given tickets, like ones earned at an arcade, in order to show appreciation. 

“Everyone gets ten tickets and that represented their hours that they could volunteer,” Holdman said. “There were cups outside of each room and you gave your tickets as if those were your hours you were giving to the cause in order to stop it or be an advocate against that type of oppression.” 

Asia Ester, a senior studying health care management, was an actor in the racial bias room. This is the second year she has volunteered for the tunnel. 

Ester said she likes to see others enlightened on the topics shown in the room. 

“They see the title on the door but nobody really speaks up about those topics,” Ester said. “Enlightening others who do not know much about the topic or watching the faces of others who know about the topic but appreciate the fact that it’s being talked about.” 

The racial bias room showed three clips of instances of discrimination. One video showed a white woman calling the police on a black family for enjoying their time at the park and using a barbecue grill, which the woman claimed was not allowed.

“[The racial bias room] is trying to convey the definition and a visual of discrimination, bias and power, through the definitions of each word but also through the video,” Ester said. 

Each room was created by the actors who performed the different examples of discrimination. 

“I think it speaks more and has more volume if someone who creates the room has gone through that certain situation,” Ester said. “It is easier for them to express exactly what they want to get out as opposed to someone just googling it or saying that they know of it. If they know of it, they never experienced it and cannot go into detail about it.”

Staff reporter Juniper Oxford can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JuniperOxford.

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