Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2001

TUNNEL EXPLORES OPPRESSION

April 4, 2001

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The Nazi soldier screamed in German as he grabbed Sarah Jane Russell by the arm and shoved her into the gas chamber.

The scene wasn't real, but it made her think.

"The fact that the Nazi put his hand on me felt like a huge violation," said Russell, director of Lawrence's rape crisis center. "I felt sick to my stomach."

That was the type of reaction organizers of the "Tunnel of Oppression" were hoping to get. The tunnel is an interactive, multimedia experience that deals with issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia. It continues from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at Hashinger Hall.

The tunnel was designed by Robert Page, director of KU's Office of Multicultural Affairs, when he was at Western Illinois University. Since then, the program has expanded to universities nationwide, and Page talks about it at seminars.

"People can experience things they wouldn't normally and don't think about every day," he said. "Like the Holocaust -- people know what it is, but they don't know what it was like to be shoved into a gas chamber. It's different than reading and hearing about it."

Participants -- who are taken in groups of about 15 -- first see video clips from movies. In one clip from "Higher Learning," a white woman moves her purse away from a black man in an elevator.

Then, they walk silently through a hallway as boom boxes blare racial and sexual slurs.

In the final section, student volunteers act out scenes depicting discrimination and violence. In one, a piano teacher sexually harasses his female student. In another, a roommate confronts her roommate about being a lesbian.

The experience ends with a group discussion with a university counselor.

Adrian Zink, a freshman who toured the tunnel Tuesday, said the experience was more dramatic than seeing oppression on television.

"I've never seen people scream those kinds of things," he said. "It was a real eye-opener. I'm from a small town, and I'm a white male. I've never experienced that before."

-- Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145.

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