Out of the Darkness

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Out of the Darkness

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
A student event featuring an interactive tunnel displaying images, videos and other elements sheds light on oppression.

Each room told a different story, using videos, social media posts, and other forms of interactive displays to get their narratives across. Like the 25-year-old woman abducted on her way to work in Yunnan, China, and sold into sexual slavery, and the 50-year-old Christian convert murdered by suspected Islamic militants while doing mission work in India.

 Along with the stories came alarming statistics. Like one sexual assault occurring every 107 seconds in the United States each year and that cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all the nation’s CO2 emissions.

But the light at the end of a tunnel rife with examples of oppression and intractable problems would come in the form of a discussion on how to overcome and correct such injustices and obstacles. “Education and awareness,” said one woman, as she sat in a circle of about 20 University of Miami students who had just completed a tour of UM’s Tunnel of Oppression.

Held January 22-24 in the Shalala Student Center’s third-floor Grand Ballroom, which had been modified to include temporary rooms separated by curtains, the annual multisensory exhibit challenged the campus community’s thoughts and perceptions surrounding such issues as racism, sexual violence, human trafficking, religion, climate change, poverty, and LGBTQ.

“Through a lens that allows one to examine topics either up close or from a distance, we try to incorporate different levels of issues, whether they exist on campus, in the Miami area, or on a national and international front,” said senior Ryan Kesselring, the social justice education coordinator at the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, which sponsors the Tunnel.

“I experienced it as a freshman and thought it was unique in that it brought so many different groups of people together,” Kesselring added. “It’s one of the few events on campus that allows students to address such a broad base of issues.”

References to the #MeToo movement and President Trump’s remarks about immigrants from “s**thole countries” could be found in some of the rooms. “But regardless of who is president, there’s still going to be racism, there’s still going to be homophobia and transphobia,” Kesselring said.

UM President Julio Frenk, first lady Felicia Knaul, Provost Jeffrey Duerk, and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely toured the Tunnel on Tuesday, wearing headphones to listen to descriptive audio that was featured in some of the themed rooms.

This year’s Tunnel of Oppression, part of Social Justice Week, marked its first in the spacious Grand Ballroom. It had previously been held in the smaller Senate Room in the Shalala Student Center.

Student volunteers begin planning for the Tunnel in the fall, meeting with the different UM student organizations that decide the concepts for each room. “It’s a great opportunity for students to come together each year and create a space around issues they’re passionate about,” said Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center.

“I’ve always been passionate about the environment, but now I’m even more so after taking the tour,” said Amanda Chamberlain, a senior public relations major, just after she experienced the exhibit on Tuesday. “It’s inspired me to become a nicer, more understanding person.”