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March 1, 2003 [feather]
Tunnel of Oppression

The Tunnel of Oppression--a grassroots diversity program that originated at the University of Western Illinois at Macomb a decade ago and has since sprung up on campuses across the country--has found its way to lovely Muncie, Indiana. This week, Ball State opened its very own custom-built tunnel, complete with a racism scenario in which "two actors portrayed Ku Klux Klan members who yelled obscene phrases at the audience" and a body image scenario in which "two female actors worked out, casually talking about drinking milk to help them throw up." Upon exiting, students passed by a comments board where they could post reactions--one student wrote simply, "Welcome to Hell." They were then led to an insta-therapy session to debrief: "When they go through this event, it's such an emotional event that they need to talk through it," said an organizer.

Ball State joins a growing list of schools that have staged their own interactive tunnel visions of "hate" (defined in terms of the usual -phobias and -isms). Some of the more ambitious Tunnels of Oppression have been put on at Arizona, where tunnel-goers were cast as Jews in a Nazi gas chamber (some were cast as gay Jews); Maryland, where false sexual assault statistics were presented as true and where white students were handcuffed to a wall to simulate the experience of slavery; and Regis University, which also disseminated false sexual assualt numbers and where tunnel-goers confronted their "ableism" by trying to do tasks while blindfolded or while sitting in a wheelchair.

The Tunnel of Oppression is a good example of what passes for enlightenment on today's campuses. It is not about disseminating information (not about disseminating true information anyway), or about providing historical context for understanding the conflicts that define our age, but about oversimplifying those conflicts through a disingenuous appeal to our emotions. The Tunnel of Oppression--which proudly casts itself as a "sensory experience"--encourages students not to think rationally about what ails the world, or to inform themselves by learning facts and studying context, or even to take reasoned, principled action against injustice, but to react viscerally to images of violence, to become hysterical on cue.

The Tunnel of Oppression takes the concept of shock value to extremes, using overblown melodrama as an agent of social change, and recruiting people to its cause by subjecting them to simulated short-term trauma--which it then conveniently tells them how to understand in the handy group therapy session that forms the final stop of the tour. It's manipulative, it's anti-intellectual, and it's--paradoxically--every bit as cynical and consumerist as the society it claims to deplore. In a world where instant gratification is all, the Tunnel of Oppression models consciousness-raising on the drive-thru window: offering one-stop awareness for students on the go, it sells convenience as substance, and even packages their reactions in school-sponsored "shrinkwrap." The only question remaining is, Do they include fries with that?

UPDATE 3/3/03: The University of Nevada at Reno opened its second annual Tunnel of Oppression yesterday. It includes a scene of spousal abuse and a skit in which a father responds to his son's confession that he is gay by shouting, "Donít tell me Iíve been raising a faggot for the last 18 years." According to one organizer, the purpose of the Tunnel of Oppression "is to get people out of their comfort zone. ... To just know that there still is a lot of oppression out there ó in the classroom, in the workplace, everywhere." According to another, "You can think about diversity. You can think about sex crimes and hate crimes, but this program helps us feel or experience some of the consequences or damage of behaviors stemmed from hate." See meme. See meme go.

posted on March 1, 2003 9:44 AM


How is it that Erin O'Connor sees the transparency of the aforementioned, "Tunnel of Oppression", when so many others are seemingly so blind? What is it that separates Erin's position from the University and those who subscribe to these programs? Thanks, Erin, for helping those of us not in the mainstream of education to get a glimpse of the "systems" in place.

Posted by: mshunziker at March 1, 2003 3:15 PM

Actually, I think this kind of thing has lots of potential. Why have classrooms, instructors, textbooks, etc? The college experience should be a set of rides and exhibits, more or less like Disney EPCOT but adjusted to be less intellectually challenging--we could have not only the "tunnel of oppression," but the "mountain of math," the "English Experience," and so on. Students could buy a ticket, ride through in comfort, have all of the proper beliefs instilled, and at the end collect a diploma. Professors would be liberated from the need to ever look at an undergraduate, much less talk to one.

Posted by: David Foster at March 1, 2003 4:01 PM

It's an emotional theme park--a Disneyland for folks who, in real life, get all lathered up when they feel "uncomfortable". Isn't this just the same as S & M clubs whre you can explore your rape fantasies "safely"?

Posted by: K. Coe at March 1, 2003 5:49 PM

Damn, Erin. I must say that was a beautifully worded post. Hands down, this is the most eloquent blog on the web. Keep it up.

Posted by: Sage at March 2, 2003 11:00 PM

Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!

Why do parents pay for this stuff?

Posted by: Brian at March 3, 2003 12:32 PM

What is really appalling is the premise that this kind of childish paly-acting can have a deep and positive effect on anyone's ethical development. Universities are supposed, in theory, to be places where simplistic assumptions about things are scrutinized and critically evaluated, rather than being implemented with childish enthusiasm. It takes a kind of idiocy, both intellectual and moral, to think that this smug posturing will induce better behavior or mor mature thought in anyone. It most reminds me of the Haloween Haunted House run by some fundamentalist sect that purports to show how anyone who takes exception to its views is headed straight for the torments of hell. The same mindset seems to be at work here, with the additional embarassment that it dominates what is purported to be a community of serious intellectuals.

Posted by: Norman Levitt at March 3, 2003 3:03 PM

I think you've all missed the point.

This is brutal political indoctrination and emoational assault -- Stalinism.

Why aren't students bringing lawsuits against colleges stupid enough to engage in this jackass behavior?

Hope some college is bankrupted by the settlement.

Posted by: Stephen Thomas at March 3, 2003 6:30 PM

Are all of you self-proclaimed educated people insane? Have any of you ever been the victim of sexual assault, or come from a home where domestic violence takes place? Have you any idea that these things happen on a daily basis in this country? The Tunnel of Oppression is meant to be an educational, sensory experience, not an amusement park type thing. To call the presentation of this program (programs, after all, are supposed to be, oh no, EDUCATIONAL) "Jackass behavior" is absurd. And to imply that students should be bringing lawsuits against campuses that present this progam is an insult to people who toil to present this wonderful program. Every campus that presents this program should be commended, for the fact that this program opens people's eyes to the fact that such things as domestic violence, rape, and eating disorders DO happen, and they DO happen on college campuses. If you people claim to be college students, then you in fact have a lot to learn.

Posted by: MRFRA at March 11, 2003 3:57 AM

What is said is in order to be educated we have to understand our differences. Being a co-presentor of the Tunnel of Oppression for the past two years at SUNY Cortland and being involved with the program for my time at Cortland I have to laugh at some of the comments on this post. One most of you arguing here don't understand the importance and weight of a program like this. What I would like to ask is How many of youhave tried to do a campus diversity program. This program in its 6 years at Cortland has draw more students than any residence hall program could ever hope to imagine.

This past fall we presented this program and had over 750 students go through this program and impacted each and every one of them. At our annual residence life conferance we had 240 student staff attend this program. What most of you fail to comprehend is that different people expierence situations in different ways. This program is a slymps of how others may have to live on a daily basis.

Second I find it funny that the majority of you are claiming to be educated. I'TS A SAD REALITY THAT A TOUGHT FROM SOMEONE WAS LAWSUIT. it's people like you that don't allow us to move foward and add to the oppression in society. Being educated means being open to new ideas you may not agree with. As a scholar myself I ask you to look beyond the actors and role play and look at the real hidden meaning of this program and what it truely does. Because numbers don't like and when 750 students ATTEND a program.....you guys have no leg to stand on

President Carter once said " In order to accept our differences we must accept our commonality"

Whats most oppressive is people like you are going to be the teachers, lawyers, doctors, and educators of the future and you can't get over your own issues. What a sad future we have ahead of us.

Posted by: Brandon Dawson at March 11, 2003 4:17 AM

Mr. Dawson:

Go to a real college and get a real education. Then go out into the world and learn the complexities of this so-called "oppression" instead of regurgitating the pap you've been fed by collectivist monsters. Read some books - Hugo and Dostoevsky and Balzac for a start. Use your mind, man, not your emotions! If you don't know it, you're being laughed at all over the Web.

Robert Speirs
Tallahassee, Florida

Posted by: Robert Speirs at March 11, 2003 4:36 PM

I, for one, don't claim to be a college student, I claim to be a college graduate. And as such, I feel qualified to say that Mr. Dawson's screed is about as close to functional illiteracy as I've seen from a college student. I could wear out a box of red pencils running through that sucker.

Try to spend a little more time in English classes, and a little less time playing Save the World. Your earning potential will increase exponentially.

Out of an enrollment of 7,500? Ten percent? Hell, I could probably get that with a sign on a stick saying, "Look in here!"

. . . and impacted each and every one of them.

"Impacted?" To paraphrase Sideshow Bob, "What an utterly useful piece of non-claptrap that never once deprived me of actual information." News flash: One could claim that people exiting the Tunnel who laughed heartily and jeered the organizers were "impacted." With jargon like that, you definitely have a future in the social sciences, though.

it's people like you that don't allow us to move foward and add to the oppression in society.

Hey, if you want to move forward and add to the oppression in society, I'm not going to stand in your way!

Because numbers don't like and when 750 students ATTEND a program.....you guys have no leg to stand on

I could get 750 people to ATTEND a dog fight. Doesn't mean that dog fighting is a positive thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some peasants to go kick.

Posted by: Phil at March 11, 2003 7:17 PM

Posted by MRFRA:
Are all of you self-proclaimed educated people insane? Have any of you ever been the victim of sexual assault, or come from a home where domestic violence takes place? Have you any idea that these things happen on a daily basis in this country?

As a matter of fact:
I was sexually abused at four.
My father was a raging alcoholic who got his kicks from punching my mother in the face until he got tired.
I've gone hungry because my dad thought liquor was more important than food.
I've been cold because of the same reason.

So, yeah, I have experienced it.
Don't sit up on that high-horse and claim to speak for victims or claim to be advancing "diversity" or "understanding".
The people organizing and planning this Stalinistic brainwashing tripe don't speak for the majority of "victims" in our society.
These kind of stunts are just stupid. People like you and publicly paid indoctrination specialists at universities make me sick using legitimate societal problems to advance your leftist, ethically, and morally bankrupt agendas.
Grow up and move on.
You might enjoy playing the victim for the rest of your life, but I will not.
You are the one with a lot to learn.

Posted by: grillmaster Celissa at March 11, 2003 7:42 PM

"Every campus that presents this program should be commended, for the fact that this program opens people's eyes to the fact that such things as domestic violence, rape, and eating disorders DO happen, and they DO happen on college campuses."

Because, as we all know, without standing in a tunnel listening to actors scream "obscene phrases" at us we have no chance of discovering the existence of "domestic violence, rape, and eating disorders", and presumably racism.

That fad of reading newspapers, information websites, and books is so overrated.

Posted by: mj at March 13, 2003 1:28 PM

I've seen several of these "tunnels of oppression". All I can say is that they are just one big leftist weep-fest. I've also seen more intolerance there than in the real world. There was one in Indiana that attacked Catholics as oppressing women because we don't ordain women. Did you hear anything about Orthodox Jews or Muslims who also don't have women clergy?! No, of course not because they are the "victims" and it is politically incorrect to make those statements. All I see is the usual name calling (racist, sexist, don't-like-beans-in-their-chilli-ist, etc) and manipulative hypothetical situations that are used for dramatic emotional effect. In fact I even saw several so called "reference books" quoted which no serious scholar would even laughingly refer to as credible. If you want a dose of liberal, left-wing, anti-religious, anti-male, anti-middle class, and anti-white tirade that glorifies the cult of victimization presented at your school then make a "tunnel of oppression". If you want cold, hard facts then read a good book.

Posted by: Mark Chaszar at April 1, 2003 11:21 PM

I am intrigued.
I have helped in the organization and facilitation of the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire version of the Tunnel of Oppression for three years. I agree that it is probably a very unintelligent and mindless method of educating the general student population. However, life in Eau Claire consists of a mostly white, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, suburban, upper to middle-class society. Most of the students that attend the University come from backgrounds that follow this same societal structure/pattern.
The Tunnel is aimed at the students that don't realize that life elsewhere is any different from the Suburbia that they grew up in. Ignorance is dangerous. The goal of any baccalaureate is the irradication of the ignorance that they still harbor, though in most cases the targeted ignorance is solely "book knowledge." Unfortunately the opening of a can of beer occurs far more often than the opening of any book.
The goal of the Tunnel is to inspire the opening of history and diversity oriented books when students realize that they don't know what they don't know. It is intended to be an eye-opener, not a book-closer.
I realize that, in many cases, this is not the end result of the Tunnel. Students walk through and appear uninspired and apathetic to the situations that they've just encountered. I'd like to say we do it all for just "that one" that we help, but, the fact is, we're always looking for new methods to encourage students to find the books that all of you discovered during your days at University.
The point of my post is to help you see things from the side of the programmers and to ask for your help. If you can think of way to create a program that is eye-opening and inspiring, please help all of us by sharing it. Being reactive to a bad program helps no one, being proactive helps everyone.

Posted by: Dusty Huebner at May 6, 2003 2:53 AM

You who pride yourselves on these oh-so-dramatic tunnels of oppression, tell me why one reading of the Gulag Archipelago isn't a better way to demonstrate what oppression really means. And why doesn't your Tunnel include dramatic re-enactions of Ukraine 1930, or Cambodia 1972, or several other occasions where progressive collectivists demonstrated their tender concerns for humanity?

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at May 6, 2003 7:03 PM

first, the rhetoric that many opponents of the tunnel are using is based on the superiority of the intellect and denigration of emotions for proper education. as defenders of the intellect - defend your position intellectually. i can play your silly intellectual games, and would not make the facile argument that emotions are of no value. above, norman levitt begins his criticism:

What is really appalling is the premise that this kind of childish paly-acting can have a deep and positive effect on anyone's ethical development.

- well, if it would have a positive effect would you find it valuable? what would you consider a positive effect? what is ethical development?

Also above, robert spears states:

go out into the world and learn the complexities of this so-called "oppression"...Read some books

i would agree that we can come to different theories and understandings about people and society through literature and art (i would suppose that is the crux of your point), but without engaging with people and society (as the tunnel does) of what use is that book-time? the previous post by dusty huebner is correct about being proactive and making either cogent criticisms or useful suggestions.

second, none of the critiques of the tunnel mention the place for combatting discrimination and/or violence. one mention is made to ethics and morality - is this to say that the above critics do not feel that discrimination, oppression, violence, etc. are not problems that ought to be addressed to overcome? what is the purpose of education or intellect that so many of the above critics seem to preeminently value? if the intellect is not vaunted as a superior tool for something then of what use is it? i suggest that the desire to fetishize the intellect comes from the belief that it is the superior tool for understanding problems so that those problems might be addressed and solved - meaning that there would seem to be something inherent to embracing the idea of the intellect and progress.

third, of what use is phil's ridicule of brandon dawson's post? if phil was unable to understand what brandon was writing that is one thing, i suspect that he did understand and merely intended to belittle dawson while puffing his chest. what purpose does this type of engagement serve? i would prefer not to make personal attacks (and engage those that do into dialogue about the motivation for doing so) and instead try to understand the ideas and social implications of what is said.

Posted by: jonk at May 6, 2003 7:06 PM


Go here for lots of responses to your question.

Posted by: Erin O'Connor at May 7, 2003 8:44 AM

Theis message board has become a good example of oppression. Maybe this is an illustration why it's so hard to move FWD

Posted by: Allison at September 28, 2003 6:06 PM

I go to Arizona State University and just recently went through the tunnel of oppression. At first I was skeptical because I didn't have a clue what it was going to entail, but the thought of putting myself and fellow peers into situations where we are being discriminated against, I believe, opened people's eyes to the fact that oppression is still very present in modern day America and all over the world. Plastered scenes of genocide and slavery covered the walls...the sad part was that it all happened this decade. To think that this is still going on in third world countries makes me sick. The tunnel is informative, but it's going to take a lot more to make a significant difference in the generations of tomorrow.

Posted by: bree bresciani at October 22, 2003 5:40 PM