Injustice exhibit raises oppression awareness

UM alumna Natania Widensky browses the Tunnel of Oppression exhibit, located in the SAC Senate Room, Tuesday afternoon. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer
UM alumna Natania Widensky browses the Tunnel of Oppression exhibit, located in the SAC Senate Room, Tuesday afternoon. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

The Senate Room on the third floor of the Student Activities Center transformed into a peaceful protest over the weekend for the eighth annual Tunnel of Oppression, a multi-sensory exhibit created by students to bring awareness to different types of injustice.

Tunnel tours began Monday afternoon and were prefaced by a video informing visitors of the sensitive nature of the tunnel. The experience was meant to challenge people’s thoughts and opinions, the video said. A tour guide then escorted visitors through the eight rooms, each representative of one form of oppression.

Jasmine Tomita-Barber, a senior biology major, served as a tour guide and Tunnel of Oppression co-chair. She first became involved with the event after going on a service trip and learning about developmental disabilities. Tomita-Barber emphasized the impact one person can have in facing social injustice.

“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, now that I know about a certain situation, I must become Mother Theresa or Gandhi,’ but that’s not what we’re saying at all,” Tomita-Barber said. “There’s a lot of power in just one individual.”

The tunnel consisted of rooms highlighting racism, education, disabilities, LGBTQ, gender and body image, sexual assault and human trafficking, and religion. Students and organizations decorated the rooms with fact sheets, pictures and videos.

Several rooms included hateful posts on social media accounts such as Yik Yak and UMiami Secrets. Racist comments from Fox News hosts blared from a television screen in one room and audio recordings of students’ experiences with prejudice played overhead in another.

Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer
UM alumna Natania Widensky reads through postings in one of the Tunnel of Oppression’s rooms. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

In the LGBTQ room, a picture of a student holding up a sign with “It’s not just a phase” written on it accompanied dozens of other pictures with personal statements.

A cutout figure hung from a noose knot and was covered with historical examples of oppression in the room on racism. One spotlight lit a myriad of social media posts with the hashtag “AliveWhileBlack” and cast the shadow of the figure on the room.

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or prosecution of others,” read a John F. Kennedy quote in the religion-focused room.

Two of the rooms also had students posing as people affected by the specific kind of oppression.

Sophomore Sarah Chrieki took on the role of a self-conscious, body-obsessed woman for the room on gender and body image. She stood in front of a mirror as guests entered the room, wearing undergarments and surgical markings all over her body to represent the influence of the media on women’s ideas of their bodies.

“For a lot of girls, we are constantly yearning for the next thing. There’s always somebody prettier than us,” she said.

Chrieki, a biology major, decided to participate in Tunnel when her sorority sister posted on Facebook asking for a volunteer. She felt the event was important to her, and she especially argued how women’s success is often not recognized unless they are conventionally beautiful.

“A really good example of that is George Clooney’s wife, who is an extremely accomplished woman, and all she’s known for is being George Clooney’s wife,” Chrieki said. “We are basically valued on how we look.”

The “light at the end of the tunnel” was the Interconnectedness Room, the final room on the tour. In it stood eight trees connected by vines, illustrating the correlation of one form of oppression to another. Visitors were asked to read a pledge and sign a banner with their own pledge against hate.

Shelby Juarez, a women’s and gender studies major, helped put together the LGBTQ room at Tunnel. Juarez said the event connected people even in its construction.

“I think when you get involved and have fun with something and it feels cool, then other people don’t see it as volunteering and work,” Juarez said. “These rooms really highlight those daily struggles that people go through … by showing that this stuff is not far away … it’s here.”

The Tunnel of Oppression will run from 4-10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.