Apr 25, 2019
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(Hayley Salazar/The Collegian)

Students learn about other’s struggles through ‘tours’ of oppression

If a friend asked you to put yourself in their shoes, would you? What would you learn?

University Courtyard, the housing department at Fresno State, encouraged students and community members to take on such a task by participating in the “Tunnel of Oppression” on March 8.

Introduced in 2007, “Tunnel of Oppression” uses interactive experience to enlighten students about situations often faced by exploited individuals. Now in its eighth year, the Tunnel – as it’s called for short – continues to impact participating students.

The tour moves through a series of rooms where actors play out common circumstances of oppression as well as provide statistical information.

These situations touch on the topics of impaired vision and physical disabilities; sexual assault; drug and alcohol abuse; student homelessness and food insecurity; eating disorders; suicide awareness; and mental illness stigmas.

“The Tunnel made me feel like I was living through these situations. I felt an element of unknown which made the experience meaningful in the end,” said Mia Summers, a third-year business marketing major who participated in the walk. “I have a heightened awareness for all the situations that were shown to me.”

Summers shared her own trials she had related to while on the walk.

“I felt most connected to the sexual assault tunnel because I am a survivor myself,” Summers said. “The actors in the room captured the feeling of oppression that many victims feel. It was the most powerful and controversial message of the night.”

Organizations such as the Student Health and Counseling Center, United Student Pride, Transitional Age Youth (TAY) Center and Fresno State Food Security Project teamed up with University Courtyard to put on the event.

Julia Ruiz, a residential adviser for University Courtyard, spoke of the importance of the event as she passed out name tags to students.

“A lot of times we only see [oppression] in the movies, or we only hear stories about certain things like homelessness or mental health issues,” Ruiz said. “We don’t realize how close it is around us [or] how people can hide these [struggles] very easily.”

The struggles are not always apparent when meeting a person for the first time, Ruiz said. Most students are left to face these issues on their own without knowledge of possible support.

The Tunnel provided support information for students dealing with such adversity. For Ruiz, it is an eye-opening experience for students typically untouched by oppressed situations.

“[Tunnel of Oppression] is a way to realize and to be open to those things that are happening,” Ruiz said.

Participants left positive messages on the tables to remind others they are not alone when facing adversity.

As students received their name tags, they were instructed to write down the way they were feeling at that particular moment.

“Tired, Sleepy, Pretty OK, Spiritual, Stressed, Happy, Curious, Meh, Joyful,” read a few of the tags students wore as they lined up to begin the tour.

The tour ended in the Room of Light, where students were given a second name tag and asked to write the emotions they felt after the walk.

“Enlightened, Aware, Shocked, Not Alone, Educated, Hopeful,” were some of many tags that, marked a pivotal moment in the participants’ thoughts.

Participants left positive messages on the tables to remind others they are not alone when facing adversity.

For Kira Machado, a freshman studying history, the Tunnel was a powerful and enlightening experience.

“There were a lot of different emotions, depending on the situation,” Machado said. “Some things relate to me more than others. It also made me put myself in other people’s shoes. I felt like it provided me with more of a sense of understanding.”

Lawrence Martinez, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, who sat with Machado said the event was eye-opening.

“I hope other students realize that they’re not alone,” she said. “There are organizations put together to help in each and every situation that was presented.”

The most impactful moment of the tour for Martinez was witnessing the situation regarding rape.

“I definitely agree with the rape situation [being the most impactful],” Machado said. “As a survivor of rape, I thought it was very eye-opening to other people. I could tell by everybody’s reaction in the room. They know what to do now.”

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