Recognizing Oppression

USF’s Tunnel of Oppression event raised awareness and reflection on types of oppression occurring in the world.


The Tunnel of Oppression event was held at Juniper-Poplar residence hall Jan. 23-25.         Photo: Laura Kneski | USF News


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 29, 2013) – The nationally-recognized Tunnel of Oppression, an event held at the University of South Florida in January, sought  to expose students to their own privilege or their own oppression.


In the Tunnel, student volunteers acted out several skits, each showing a different form of oppression. Topics such as race, sexuality and everyday student-felt pressures were brought to the forefront. Viewers mentioned that they especially liked how the Tunnel showcased relevant topics such as cyber-bullying.


This was the 10th year that the Tunnel has taken place at USF and the second time that it was hosted in Juniper-Poplar residence hall. As always, the event was made possible by Housing & Residential Education. This year they also had the support of Victim’s Advocacy, Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Counseling Center, which helped with the events that happened behind-the-scenes.


Following the walk-through of the Tunnel itself, groups were escorted to a debriefing session led by one or two professionals from the departments that hosted the event.


Stacey Jaksa, residence life coordinator for Greek Village and the person in charge of the Tunnel this year, said that the debriefing period was the most important part of the experience. It was a time for reflection upon what was just seen, and to notice that the others in the group most likely felt similarly about the topics highlighted.


The conversation is what spreads awareness and makes a difference.


“I think that the biggest change that I would hope [to see] is that they learn something from it. So I would hope that one of the skits touches them in some way, whether they know someone that’s been through that experience, they’ve been through it themselves, but they learn something from that, from seeing it depicted,” Jaksa said.


Student tour guide Rachel Waffner saw a noticeable transformation in the students that she brought through the Tunnel.


“When people first get to the Tunnel of Oppression, they’re usually smiley, not aware of what’s going to happen,” she said. “Then when you walk out, I’ve turned around and looked at all the kids behind me, and their faces are just completely shut down.”


Fellow tour guide Eduarda Castro believes that some people may take a while to realize that they are being oppressed. Referring to the scene where a student crumbles under parental and educational pressures, Castro said, “I guess sometimes people don’t really know how much they’re being oppressed, until they get to their limit. And that’s when they eventually need help or they need some assistance from someone.”


Visitors were asked to fill out a pre- and post-evaluation questionnaire explaining if they had ever felt oppressed and what they took away from the experience. Housing is using this to find out which skits had the most impact, and what students believed could be improved upon for next year’s Tunnel.


Also after the debriefing there was an opportunity for people to anonymously write down one secret. The secrets became part of a collage that spanned the walls of the final walk-through room. Visitors could also write down a time in which they had been oppressed. These personal experiences were linked together above the secrets to form a Chain of Oppression. The point was to depict how many secrets are shared among those who feel alone. It is not just one person in the world that has been made to feel lesser than he or she is really worth.


Jaksa said that the turnout was about what they expected in relation to past years. However, students did not anticipate the experience to affect them as much as it did.


Student Amanda Armstrong was one of those whose expectations were exceeded.


“I was shocked. I didn’t think that it was going to be that intense and it definitely opened up my eyes, made me feel a lot more compassionate for people. Now I feel like I want to do something to help them,” she said.


Shelby Jennings said she didn’t know what to expect from the Tunnel, but was impressed how its organizers took oppression anything but lightly.


“I feel like if everyone went through this experience, it would definitely change their mind,” Jennings said.


Conversation had already started, with murmurs and hasty whispers coming from those exiting the event. Some reveled in how privileged they were, while others could only nod in agreement with the reality of how oppression truly feels. For those who took the time to enter, the Tunnel put society in a new perspective.


Following a similar theme, Housing & Residential Education will be hosting the “Choose A Better Word” campaign from March 26-28 in effort to quell the use of derogatory slurs within the community.


The Housing & Residential Education homepage is located at


The USF Counseling Center homepage includes their calendar of group therapy sessions, as well as listings to all of their psychological services, and is found at


The Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention homepage may be located at


The Office of Multicultural Affairs website can be found at