The Associated Students of Southern Oregon University presented the “Tunnel of Oppression” exhibit last Tuesday, a photo gallery packing an emotional punch as it forced visitors to face the realities of social discrimination and prejudice.
“Sometimes people need to be shocked in order to be moved,” said Marjorie Trueblood Gamble, associate director of the Diversity and Inclusion Program on campus. “The reason why we do this is not to get stuck in our guilt or stuck in our own blindness, but for awareness, to see and think about how to make the situation better. Just becoming aware is the first step to getting the ball rolling.”
The display consisted of a dimmed tunnel plastered on both sides with graphic photographs, newspaper clippings and advertisements depicting a wide variety of human oppression and prejudice in action, ranging from economic disparity to homophobia and transphobia, from racism of all kinds to sexism and misogyny.
The display even introduced awareness of animal rights and environmental activism in response to deforestation and desertification, glacier retreat, and mountaintop removal. Placards posted alongside these photographs explained to visitors the connection between environmental issues and oppression by saying “The destruction of ecosystems leads to cultural extinction.”
“One motivating influence behind the concept was a desire to bring all the various resource centers together” said Yvette Martinez, director of Multicultural Affairs, and the organizer of the display.
The short tour ended in a room where mental health counselors were available for emotional support upon request of visitors.
A follow-up discussion hosted by Gamble was held later that evening, during which students shared their impressions of the exhibit in open conversation.
One student said it made them angry inside to see so much suffering and injustice. Other students described being in shock and being overwhelmed, and one participant said she was moved to tears by some of the photographs. Another student admitted it made them feel guilty, saying they got caught up in their own group’s oppression too often to notice the oppression of other groups.
Other students spoke of the need for more improvement of the exhibit in the future, one noting that the current exhibit left out problems faced by military veterans. Another student pointed out that anti-Semitism was not a part of the exhibit, while photos displaying anti-Palestinian and anti-Native American activity were included. One woman expressed interest in more subtle forms of civil and human rights violations, such as accusations of voter suppression from requiring people to have an ID to vote.
At the end of the discussion, Gambler announced a future ASSOU project she called the “Everyone Matters Campaign,” a project that invites students and faculty first to upload and contribute short video clips in which they describe the experience of being misjudged or of misjudging others, then to make a 24-hour commitment to avoid judging others.