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Tunnel of Oppression
The Tunnel of Oppression is a campus diversity initiative originally developed at Western Illinois University (Pace University, 2009). At Rowan it became an initiative of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Residential Learning through the efforts of a Graduate Student, Ms. Sara Beth Bailey and a Resident Hall Director, Ms. Lori Trois. The first tunnel was constructed and performed in room 144 of the Student Center in the Fall of 2008 as a part of the first LGBT Awareness Week at Rowan University.
Members of the Rowan community were seeking to bring greater awareness to the oppression experienced by people every day as many others ignore or overlook these physical and mental abuses. In that light, the creators of the Tunnel of Oppression wanted to give participants the opportunity to see, touch, hear, and feel the realities of oppression as a stepping stone towards creating diversity awareness. The first Tunnel of Oppression was loosely based off of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA. The Tunnel of Oppression is intended to be eye-opening and raise the consciousness and is built as a brief introductory experience for those students who have rarely experienced difference. The rationale is that students are often unable to fully understand oppression and discrimination until they have experienced it first-hand (Pace University, 2009).
Experiencing the tunnel is intended to provoke reflective thought, feelings, and emotions about the themes and images displayed or acted out in the tunnel. Subsequently, the Tunnel can be disturbing and even shocking to those who have never experienced overt forms of discrimination or oppression. It is understood that deep seated feelings can be evoked as a result of the full-sensory experience and may also be upsetting to those who have witnessed the realities of the images presented. Yet, it is important to realize that the scenes depicted in the Tunnel represent reality for those living it as a daily experience.
The day was founded by Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary in 1988, in celebration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights one year earlier, in which 500,000 people marched on Washington, DC, USA, for gay and lesbian equality. National Coming Out Day events are aimed at raising awareness of the LGBT community among the general populace in an effort to give a familiar face to the LGBT rights movement.