Event to share perspectives of the oppressed

Duane Emerry

Religious beliefs, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race and disability are just a few of the causes of oppression in society today. In recognition of this, Grand Valley State University’s Office of Housing and Residence Life will present Tunnel of Oppression on March 24. The event is part of a nationwide initiative to introduce students to the perspectives of those around them who face oppression.

While it may be difficult to spot, oppression is occurring every day and in ways that people may not realize, said Michelle Bouwkamp, one of the resident assistants in charge of the event. She added that many people even participate in the oppression of others. The most common form of oppression is micro-aggression, which, she said, can be as simple as a woman holding her purse tighter when a person of a different race is nearby.

Participants in the Tunnel of Oppression will be introduced to these topics and how they intersect through interactive activities, including short videos, dialogues and various scenarios.

The entire second floor of the Kirkhof Center will be dedicated to the event. Students will walk through a structured path in groups of 10 to 15, spending a few minutes in each room, as well as in transitional hallways with informational posters. After completing the event, participants will meet with counselors to discuss their thoughts and feelings on what they learned.

“They’re really heavy topics,” Bouwkamp said. “That is why counselors will be there.”

As the groups engage in the activities, Bouwkamp said she hopes students realize the magnitude of the issue and the role they can play in stopping it.

“The overarching goal is to try to place the participants in the shoes of someone who has experienced oppression of any kind,” she said.

The goal isn’t just to create empathy, but to get students to feel moved and to relate to those who are different, said Jazmine Williams, the director of the Swanson Living Center.

“Grand Valley puts a lot of effort into experiences students can have, but students have to open themselves up to them,” Williams said.

She expects that students may feel bothered when they see life through the eyes of others who feel oppression, but for change to occur, it’s a necessary to feel that discomfort.

“It’s hard for people to understand someone’s experience until it affects them,” Williams said. “This is what Tunnel of Oppression does. It puts participants in the place of those who feel oppression in ways they may never have considered. It’s something where you can walk away with a new frame of mind.”

The Tunnel of Oppression is designed to create awareness and encourage action. It has been hosted sporadically at GVSU for 10 years.

This year the invitation has been extended to the local community in the hopes of creating community-wide outreach. Those interested in participating can check in any time between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on March 24 at the Grand River Room of the Kirkhof Center. Free parking will be provided in lots H and K.

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