As part of a campus-wide event series for Women’s History Month and Diversity Week, the Tunnel of Oppression exhibit took place at the University of Maine’s Memorial Union on Thursday, March 29. Sponsored by the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at UMaine, and the first of its kind on the campus, the exhibit focused on topics related to religious oppression, sexual assault, mental health disorders and discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation and nationality.
Benjamin Evans, Graduate Assistant for Campus Activities and Student Engagement (CASE), facilitated the coordination of the event as committee chair. Evans’ “passion project,” the tunnel featured statistics and skits delineating the oppression that marginalized communities and individuals face — both on campus and nationwide. “We encourage people to come in with an open mind,” Evans said.
“The University of Maine has been looking to grow attendance and involvement with diverse programming opportunities within the last year. This program highlights the lives and experiences of students at the University of Maine,” Evans wrote in an email.
CASE facilitators guided tour groups of up to 15 participants through rooms, each of which was dedicated to a different way a group faces oppression. One of the most notable parts of the exhibit featured the results of a campus-wide survey that revealed statistics related to sexual harassment and assault at UMaine.
“We released a sneak peek at data from the Campus Climate Survey on sexual harassment, which has had over 600 respondents so far. The UMaine experience of this event has been created by our community, for our [community],” Evans wrote.
First-year student Blake Pressey attended one of the Tunnel of Oppression tours in the morning and said the portions of the exhibit related to race and sexual assault resonated with them the most. When asked what they think the UMaine community could learn from this event, they said, “I think it could make them more open to change and see things in a different light, from someone else’s perspective.”
“I feel like it’ll be a shock to a lot of people and open up their eyes to what is going on. And I try to avoid politics, but going into a room and seeing the vandalism of all these different religious sites — all of it was current,” Pressey said, referring to the exhibit’s showing of incidents of vandalism that took place at various Jewish cemeteries in the state of New York and across the country.
Kirsten Daley, the president of the Black Student Union on campus, thinks six minutes for each scenario was barely enough time to explore the complexities of the oppression faced by various communities, but said she understands this was a big event with “lots of moving parts.” A lifelong Mainer, Daley has even experienced racism in her home state, where she says women touch and pull her hair without her consent. “I think Maine has an incredibly polite version of racism,” she said.
The Tunnel of Oppression started by featuring an exhibit showcasing quotes and racial slurs aimed at non-white individuals, and while it subsequently revealed other circumstances of oppression throughout its tour, the exhibit certainly ended on a hopeful note. Biology and pre-med student Taylor Bass, who also attended the event, said, “I think it’s a great first step for people who haven’t really looked [into the issues]… It’s a great intro to activism.”
“Participants walked away from the event having soaked in the experiences of six different oppressed groups. Something so incredibly important to realize is, while not recognized, there is so much intersectionality between oppressed groups. We are opening our spaces, especially in the Room of Hope, for participants to share their lived experiences and feel comfortable in doing so,” Evans wrote.
Among the other campus organizations responsible for spearheading the exhibit are the Office of Multicultural Student Life, the Counseling Center and the Wilson Center. Participants were encouraged to seek out resources available to them throughout the event. Details of the exhibit can be found on the UMaine Calendar or at the Tunnel of Oppression Facebook page. The Tunnel of Oppression was made possible with support from the Hamm Campus Activities Fund.