Credit Now Offered to Students Teaching Campus About Intolerance Through Tunnel Event
This is the first time the UA has offered a course for students putting on the Tunnel of Oppression.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
Oct. 16, 2007

One student wanted to talk about racism by asking that her class revisit the story about the 1957 integration of nine African American students at Little Rock Central High in Arkansas.

Another offered a different suggestion, saying the class should print the word “illegal” on a name tag, give it to one participant, then allow that individual to be harassed.

Several others wanted to coordinate skits that would explore the world of men and women with eating disorders. But not the “stereotypical” type, Karly Chesin suggested, noting that people tend to think only of thin women.

On that recent Wednesday afternoon, the group of students was presenting proposals for the Tunnel of Oppression.

The student-run event got its start at The University of Arizona in 1997, featuring a host of interactive skits, displays and multimedia presentations created to engage the community in a dialogue about hatred, persecution and some of society’s taboo and divisive subjects.

The event, which is open to the public, has long given participants and attendees a unique educational experience. Faculty have encouraged students to participate in the Tunnel in the past and now a number of students will get credit for their involvement.

For the first time, the UA is offering a for-credit course that allows students to gain event planning skills while digging deeper into issues of injustice.

“It’s like community service in a class," says Natalie Boras, a psychology sophomore and one among about 15 students taking the class. "We need to talk about these things because prejudice keeps us from progressing.”

More than 1,000 people typically attend event, which offers a creative platform to explore topics such as racism, sexism and homophobia. Previous events have contained scenes sometimes found to be disturbing, such as a mock execution chamber set during the Holocaust and a skit depicting domestic violence.

The Tunnel will be held at Kaibab-Huachuca residence hall for three days beginning Nov. 27.

It is not a physical tunnel, but it does move groups of participants through a number of scenes before allowing individuals to discuss their reaction at the end of the tour.

Similar programs are held at colleges and universities across the nation and the purpose is not to offend, but to engage.

The goal of the event was – and still is – to shake participants out of their complacency and to both help people acknowledge that injustice exists while encouraging advocacy and action.

No formal class had ever existed like the course being offered now.

“It really is a great way to educate students around an event that they are involved with,” says Sharon Overstreet, Residence Life associate director for residential education.

Overstreet added that the experience is different because students are sometimes more engaged when earning credit.

“We take them through all of these 'isms,' and they wouldn’t get that much depth otherwise,” Overstreet says. “It kind of brings things together and gives them more of a context for the event and allows us to bring in more of a global perspective.”

The class is split into work groups that then work together on the tour, marketing efforts and working with the actors, among other things. Students must also write in a journal, participate during class discussion, research facts, make presentations and explore topics that include classism, heterosexism, ableism, gender bias, genocide and others.

And while the class is about getting an education on such topics, ultimately the students must put on the tour.

“We want to give it a new face and new appeal,” says Preston Troy, a pre-business junior who is interested in marketing. “Putting together the class is a good exercise and a good idea.”

Kara Curcio, a Residence Life complex director who teaches the course, says the class serves as a foundation for the students.

"It’s a great way to spark interest and to open their eyes to something different," Curcio says, adding that she and others hope to offer the course again next year. The class discussions are “phenomenal,” with students sharing experiences and research, she added.

“We’re learning an awful lot about the power that students have to teach one another,” Curcio says. “We’re looking forward to seeing where students take us with the Tunnel and seeing what next year will bring.”

Part of what’s wonderful about the course is that it is not only about the in-class education. “They don’t just leave it at the door,” she says, “they take it with them, which is part of our goal.”

Extra info


Tunnel of Oppression


Kaibab-Huachuca Residence Hall


Nov. 27-29 from 6-10 p.m. with the last tour leaving at 9 p.m. each night.

The Tunnel of Oppression relies on actors who can perform the various skits. Auditions will be held Oct. 22 and 23 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Another audition will be held Oct. 26, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. All auditions will be held in the conference center at El Portal, 501 N. Highland Ave. To learn more, call 621-6501.