Scenes of famine, bigotry, religious persecution and prejudice are among the confrontational experiences waiting to incite personal reflection from those who enter the University of Montana’s Tunnel of Oppression this year.
Hosted by the University Center in collaboration with various student groups, the 4th annual Tunnel of Oppression is designed to foster awareness of worldwide injustices by funneling participants through interactive exhibits — including a mock famine-relief camp and simulated human cattle drive.
“There's been a real effort to step it up a notch this year,” tunnel guide Gwen Landquist said. “I would say this is the best one yet.”
Landquist said the displays are more hands-on than in the past, and tunnel creators used information gathered through local surveys to choose the most important topics within Missoula.
The 10 exhibits depict scenes such as military veterans returning home, cyber-bullying, body-image discrimination and famine. The combination is intended to evoke emotion from all participants.
“Different people react to different things,” said Jamar Galbreath, UM's Diversity and Student Involvement Network Coordinator. “The tunnel is designed intentionally to be very uncomfortable in certain settings for everyone.”
The tunnel is free and open to the public, with tours leaving every hour until the final closing time of 6pm Wednesday. So far, the tunnel has fulfilled its gut-wrenching duty.
“I got chills,” tunnel-goer Olivia Weber said of an exhibit where she carried a “starving” baby mannequin through an aide line only to be denied relief on the basis it wasn’t famished enough. “That one in particular gave me a physical reaction.”
The experience forces participants to come face-to-face with issues of poverty, said Julie Desoto, President of Griz for UNICEF, the student group that created the exhibit. Desoto said it’s a reality that many people we would consider starving don’t qualify for aide, and there should be enough food available to fulfill everyone’s needs.
Other displays reminded participants of issues experienced right here in Missoula.
“At first I thought, ‘how can they understand?’” said Zaneta Dale, a Native American and member of UM’s Black Student Union. “I get stuff all the time, people trying to call me Pocahontas…but I was impressed by the amount of different topics they had.”
The tunnel specifically addressed discrimination against native peoples, and Dale said she would like to see an exhibit dedicated to the issue next year.
Galbreath said tunnel creators value such public input and look forward to creating a more powerful experience in the future. He added that UM’s Tunnel of Oppression will continue to model itself after the original Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and uphold an important tradition of bringing the public face-to-face with injustices they may not notice otherwise.
“People try and stick me in a box and I don’t like that,” Dale said. “Having them realize they do it though — that’s the most beneficial thing.”