The Tunnel of Oppression: Immersive Skit Series Sheds Light on Various Forms of Abuse

By Tom McLaughlin

Homelessness, domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide – those are just a few of the issues that some students face, without ever being labeled as part of the “student experience,” says Alexis Wilson.

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Debbie Scheibler introduced “The Tunnel of Oppression” on campus in 2012.

“But it is one thing to say that we are going to discuss these issues,” says the senior psychology major at Rutgers University–Camden. “It is quite another to witness these issues firsthand and to reflect on what you’ve seen, heard, and felt.”

Putting words into action, Wilson is one of about 25 Rutgers–Camden student-actors who are bringing various forms of abuse to life in an interactive, immersive, and in-your-face program centered around a series of performed skits.

“The Tunnel of Oppression,” which is open to current Rutgers–Camden students, faculty, and staff, will run from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, to Thursday, Feb. 25 on the lower level of the Campus Center.

Pulling from history, current national and local events, and the life stories of the Rutgers–Camden community, the student-actors will depict topics ranging from poverty, sexual assault, depression and suicide, racial and cultural tensions, LGBTQAI issues, gender roles, bystander roles, body image, bullying and violence, and substance usage and abuse.

“‘The Tunnel of Oppression’ attempts to illuminate controversial barriers and scenarios that divide those who do not understand oppression and those who live it every day,” says Debbie Scheibler, assistant director of housing and residence life at Rutgers–Camden, who introduced the program on campus in 2012.

The innovative skit series aims to present stories that show participants what abuse looks and feels like – with unremitting candor – and challenges them to do something about it.

“There is really not any amount of explaining that can quite articulate the full immersive experience of ‘The Tunnel of Oppression,’” says Wilson, a Washington, D.C. resident who has participated in the program since her freshman year. “It speaks to how complex ‘Tunnel’ is; it offers a rare, reflective experience like no other.”

According to Scheibler and Wilson, the student-actors are welcome to infuse their own thoughts and experiences into the skits that they portray.

One station draws attention to the objectification of women.

“For instance, I thought that the scene on sexual assault should reflect how it often involves acquaintance rape – committed by someone who is known by the victim,” says Wilson. “They said, ‘Fine, then write it.’ The process has always been that way.”

Wilson adds that one of the most rewarding aspects about being involved in the program has been her ability to grow as a person from the experience.

“It really allows you to be introspective and to have a conversation with yourself,” says Wilson. “Since ‘Tunnel’ first entered my life, I’ve gotten a lot more into social justice and activism. So when I think about how this experience will impact my future, it already has.”

At its core, explains Scheibler, the ‘Tunnel of Oppression’ is a social justice program that hopes to inspire activism, understanding, support, and change.

“It is unlike anything being done on another campus in South Jersey,” she says. “Ultimately, for the student-actors and those traversing ‘The Tunnel of Oppression’ alike, it is the hope that they will be more aware of the injustices in society, and will have a better understanding about the role that they can and do play to either perpetuate or stop these injustices and inequalities.”

Wilson cautions participants that the ‘Tunnel’ is by no means a fieldtrip, but rather presents a very sobering reality of the issues depicted. She hopes that those who experience it firsthand will continue the conversation with their peers long after the program has ended.

“Then at least the seed has been planted,” says Wilson. “‘Tunnel’ is an experience that you can walk away from, but oppression isn’t.”

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