Bradley's tunnel project teaches tolerance with in-your-face displays
Women's screams, images of abused children and scrawls of hateful words abound in Bradley University's Tunnel of Oppression, which opened Sunday evening.
"The tunnel is all about feelings, evoking feelings," said Frances Jones, director of Bradley's Garrett Cultural Center. She's also the adviser to the students who work on the tunnel project.
Originating at Western Illinois University, the Tunnel of Oppression was created to give people who walk though it an opportunity to learn more about the oppressed, including the disabled, the enslaved and the impoverished.
"You're stepping into the life of that person," Jones said.
For example, after seeing disturbing images of Holocaust victims, tunnel participants are ushered into a small room similar in size to cells from concentration camps.
Numbers and statistics, such as how many hate groups exist in the U.S., and real-life stories of victims of oppression are written on butcher paper throughout the tunnel as well.
Tee Johnson, a 21-year-old Bradley senior, first experienced the tunnel as a freshman. This year she was one of the key organizers.
"I fell in love with it, just the idea of making people aware," Johnson said, who said about 100 students worked on this year's tunnel. The Tunnel of Oppression has been held bi-annually at Bradley since 2005.
Volunteer actors also participate, performing skits of oppressive acts such as sexual harassment. At various points during the tunnel experience, actors interact with visitors, forcing them with curse words and flash lights to get down on their knees and face the wall, for instance.
"It didn't think it was too offensive but it was scary," said Leah Tefera, in reference to an encounter with the volunteer actors.
Tefera is a 21-year-old student at Aurora University in northern Illinois. She and several others from her school drove more than 2 1/2 hours to see Bradley's tunnel. They wanted ideas for how to improve upon their own tunnel.
"It was all offensive, but it's necessary," said Megan Germain, assistant director of residence life at Aurora University. "We have to experience the discomfort to be able to create change."
Elyse Russo can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or email@example.com.