Tunnel of Oppression empowers students to be agents of local change


Students were inspired to take a stand after they experienced the Tunnel of Oppression and learned about the impact they could have on the lives of others. 

On Jan. 29-30 in the Brown-Lupton University Union Auditorium, student volunteers led their peers through a tunnel consisting of 10 rooms representing different forms of oppression.

Hannah Wright, a first-year theater major, said she realized it was important to start locally. “We don’t have to travel far to make a change. The first step is finding out what to do and to be brave enough to do it,” she said.

In years past, the Tunnel event focused on global change and was held later in the semester. However, this time organizers decided to use the exercise to emphasize the power of local change and the impact students can have in their own community.

“We did it earlier this year so students and all participants can start the dialogue a little bit earlier, and do something to change the oppression that they see in the tunnel,” Varselles Cummings, Milton Daniel hall director and Tunnel committee chair, said. 

The Tunnel ended in a facilitation room where students and faculty could discuss their experiences and propose ideas to end oppression in the community. 

The facilitation room featured a new bystander intervention component this year where event attendees were trained on how to actively stand up against oppression wherever they saw it.

The bystander intervention room was added because “it is something that isn’t talked about on the regular and is a great way for students to take action,” junior economics and political science double major Nikasha Chandhok said. 

The university’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity was responsible for the addition of the bystander intervention component. The faculty facilitators from Student Development Services and Housing and Residence Life said they were pleased with its effect. 

“There’s an opportunity to make these issues real because it’s about what’s happening on campus and in this community,” Tom Studdert, assistant dean of student development and Tunnel facilitator, said. “This is an opportunity for students to realize that they can make a change in their own community and are able to stand up as one person.”

Students committed to different ways of making a change by placing their ideas on the “Wall of Change” at the end of the Tunnel. 

Ernest Dominick, a first-year journalism major, said his commitment to change involved being selfless and living his life as an example to others. 

“You are not your top priority. If you can put energy into something else, like helping other people, amazing things can happen,” Dominick said.

Shalei Heflin, a first-year pre-major, said she would work to end oppression locally by playing an active role in the community. 

“It is important to stick to your values and stand up for what you believe in. I need to stand up for others, as well as myself and not be a bystander,” Heflin said.

David Cooper, associate director of Housing and Residence Life and a staff member on the Tunnel team, said the experience helps students explore practical ways of becoming an active agent of local change.

“The ultimate goal is that there wouldn’t be a Tunnel of Oppression because there would be a world with no oppression,” he said.