By Kaleb Vining
Many schools have created different types of programs to educate their students on the different social injustices that occur throughout the country. However, this is the first year Southwestern College has done so by creating their own Tunnel of Oppression.
The program was developed by a committee of faculty and staff at the college. This committee consists of Dan Falk, dean of students, Anjaih Clemons, director of campus life, Alissa Sheppard, advisor, Sarah Hallinan, director of student life, as well as professors Alice Bendinelli, Jacob Goodson and Reggie Jarrell.
The Tunnel of Oppression has been adopted by many colleges across the United States. It is in the school’s hands to decide what social injustice it will address in their program. Clemons said that with everything that has been going on in our country this year, the committee thought it would be a great way to introduce a program that would educate the campus community on racial injustices and racism.
George Floyd became a household name in May, 2020 when he was unjustly killed by a police officer. Breonna Taylor became a household name as well due to being unjustly gunned down by police. Clemons said that the college’s Tunnel of Oppression was created in response to these types of killings published in the media.
The Tunnel of Oppression starts with a brief introduction to the program and what an individual can plan on experiencing upon entering the tunnel itself. After entering the tunnel there are two walls that discuss slavery, but not the normal kind discussed in history classes. This slavery is brutal and the images displayed on the wall are so vivid it leads the imagination to think of the pain that those individuals suffered through.
One section discusses how families were torn apart by being sold to different plantations and how once a child reached the age of seven or eight, they were put to work immediately. The images on display are pictures of whipping victims, victims of a lynching and the ones who were unfortunate enough to be burned or mutilated.
From there, the tunnel addresses the Jim Crow Laws and more importantly, the Tulsa Race Massacre. Madeline Lee, freshman, said that class was never taught about it during high school.
The wall of information about the incident was accompanied by a two-minute video that gave a retelling of what happened from an African American woman.
The next wall recounts old articles from the Ark City Traveler about Ku Klux Klan meetings taking place near and in Winfield.
One article read, “KKK to stage party here! Parade will be held here Friday night on Summit Street 9:00 PM”. This truly hits close to home and the unsettling moans and groans of the participants in the tunnel could be heard clearly.
After learning about the KKK in and around Winfield, people are able to move on to the wall about power and culture. This wall is accompanied by photos of all the African American men and women who had been unjustly killed by law enforcement officers.
To see this is to feel ashamed of how uneducated our country is on racial injustices. To see those faces looking back at you adds to the impact that the Tunnel of Oppression creates. It is easy to feel guilty looking at the wall, but the guilt stems not from taking part in the injustice, but not knowing about it to begin with.
The Tunnel of Oppression is wrapped up with a small forum where anyone is free to discuss what they have experienced. Sheppard said that she feels extremely blessed that we do not have racial issues on campus.
“Diversity does not always mean we are educated, so it is great to have something like the Tunnel of Oppression”, said Marcus Richards, senior from Pearland, Texas.
An impactful moment came when the group was asked about what can be done to improve racial injustices and how to better educate others. Sheppard made a statement that captured what the desired impact of the program truly is.
“Kids are not born racist. It is a learned behavior and there is no reason kids should be taught how to hate a person with a different skin color,” said Sheppard.
America is divided, but the college is trying to unite its students in order to combat the social injustices that continue to plague this country.
Clemons said that the Tunnel of Oppression has gone over very well and that the committee is already in talks of doing it again next year.
“Our hope is that we are able to visit some other schools in the state of Kansas who do this program annually just so we can see how we can maybe incorporate some of their ideas into our Tunnel of Oppression,” said Clemons.
Click here to sign up for the Tunnel of Oppression. The program will be open until Thursday November 12.