Students who ventured into the Cypress residence hall community building on Wednesday night were disturbed to learn that they were going to hell.
At the entrance, USF senior Joel Toussaint blasted visitors with a cocktail of derogatory statements, curse words and hate-infused speech. Most of those negative words were said while barking right in their faces.
The reason: to promote tolerance and understanding of gays, racial minorities, the disabled and other oppressed groups in a social commentary performance called the Tunnel of Oppression.Students who filed through the room assumed the persona of gays and lesbians, and Toussaint, who is a political science major and president of USF’s wrestling club, verbally attacked students, pretending to be a homophobic hate activist.
“It was intense,” freshman Derek Nickerson said. “He conveyed the message well.”
This is the third year the student group Facilitating Awareness in our Community through Education and Support (FACES), in conjunction with Residence Services, has put on the event. Other skits included perceptions of the disabled, racially mixed students, racism, gender roles, discrimination against Muslims and weight-based discrimination.
According to Ben Johnston, a junior majoring in communications who acted as a Nazi in last year’s event, the goal is to make people feel bad in order to open up their eyes.
“My goal (last year) was to scare everyone into being silent so everyone would be attentive and listen to everything that was happening in the Tunnel of Oppression,” Johnston said.
Part of the act required students to stand up against a wall with their legs and arms outstretched, while Johnston blasted them with ‘gas’.
“We had an air gun attached to the air compressor,” Johnston said. “I would spray them all so that they could feel the ‘gas’ killing them.”
This year the Nazi is gone, but Johnston is acting in another skit involving domestic violence, where he will “kill” his wife.
We’ll be behind black paper, and student will just be able to hear the noise,” Johnston said. “I’m going to throw glass and knock the furniture down, and then you’ll hear a heart beat until she ‘dies.'”
As students reach the end of the Tunnel, they file into another room where they are encouraged to write about being a victim to discrimination or violence.
Members of the Advocacy program also asked students to respond to questions about their experience, including whether they had ever noticed any acts of discrimination on campus.
On Monday, several chalk drawings surfaced around the Phyllis P. Marshall Center and communications building proclaiming the answer to the world’s booming population was to “kill fat people.”
According to community manager of Residence Services, Danielle DiRosa and other event coordinators, Monday’s chalk messages were not part of the Tunnel of Oppression.
However, visitors are bombarded with facts and statistics, videos and images concerning oppressive acts.
“You’re overwhelmed with so much, you feel it a little more,” senior Ana Etcheverry said. “And sitting in groups, you realize more people have been taking on some pain from some of the things that they went through.”
T-shirts, from the Clothesline Project of Tampa Bay, lined some of the walls in the room.
“The shirts that are hanging up there have all been made by women and children who had been victims of violence,” director of the project Dale Shade said.
According to Shade, there are more than 1,200 shirts made by the victims, or families of victims, from acts of violence, rape and incest, local to the Tampa Bay Area.
“By creating the shirt, it externalizes all the pain that has built up inside of them,” Shade said.
Students from the National Residence Hall Honorary also set up a donation table to help outfit the homeless with backpacks full of toiletry items.
The Tunnel of Oppression will continue today and Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.