For one weekend, the Multicultural Student Services (MSS) turned the Simplot Ballroom into a reminder of the extent of oppression that minorities face in the United States.
The Tunnel of Oppression is an interactive theater experience that puts students in the shoes of the oppressed. This year’s theme was focused on Black Lives Matter, the legacy of slavery and the history of oppression. MSS has been working on this event since the beginning of the semester.
Chloe Scott is a program assistant for MSS and the director and producer of the Tunnel of Oppression.
“It’s modeled after the Museum of Tolerance and the Holocaust Museum,” Scott said. “The underlying theme is that no one is free while others are oppressed.”
The event contains 13 staff members and 20 volunteers — all with various roles from acting in the scenes to guiding groups through the tunnel — making up the largest MSS event this year.
Students and community participants start the Tunnel with a long timeline of the history of oppression in the United States, with marked events including the arrival of the first slave to America, Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement.
Students are then brought into the Tunnel, but not without first being degraded and verbally abused by the actors and volunteers. Next, students are brought into an altered Simplot Ballroom filled with five different scenes, each representing a different type of oppression.
The topics ranged from lack of healthcare for minorities, mass incarceration, domestic terrorism, housing discrimination and ending with police brutality, with a recreation of the tragic shooting of Travyon Martin, which in part sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I am telling the stories that won’t be told, my stories and the extended minority community’s stories that won’t be told if we don’t tell them,” said Ryann Banks, a political science major who plays various roles, such as a Black Lives Matter protester.
Students are supposed to feel uncomfortable when going through the Tunnel of Oppression, and gives a brief perspective of the oppression that takes place every day in the United States.
“The idea behind it is [that]we don’t want you to be comfortable,” Scott said. “Because people of color are not comfortable in these experiences to deal with microaggressions and different forms of discrimination and prejudice.”
Charles Jones is another volunteer in this event, and he plays a war veteran who faces housing discrimination after being guaranteed housing from the GI Bill.
“It’s the silence, actually, that helps with the oppression,” Jones said. “Because even though you see it and you don’t report it, it’s still like you are encouraging it, because the oppression will not stop until someone else says. It just takes one person to help break someone for the chain to start growing.”
Scott and other volunteers said that there are other ways that students can learn more about oppression outside of this event.
“My father always taught me to always go watch the news,” Jones said. “[Go] see how our government and our president try to oppress us.”
Banks emphasized the importance of getting the message out.
“I hope they relay our message, tell their friends and I hope they continue to come back next year,” Banks said. “I just want people to hear our stories, because our existence matters, our energy matters and black and brown lives matter.”
Overall, this event sparks a bigger conversation to be had in the United States and how it treats minorities.
“The whole point of this is to recreate and tell our stories and bring more awareness as a call to action for people that do have privilege and don’t have to go through these experiences,” Scott said.