News | November 05, 2020

CommunityFeaturedNewsStudent Life

Tunnel vision: FGCU shines light on cultural change

Discussion after Tunnel of Awareness tours reflects impact of five-theme display

“Shine your light, wherever you are, shine your light. Use your light to illuminate other people and make them aware. Even in a dark space, your light can make a transformational difference.”

– Dr. Christopher Blakely, Assistant Vice President of Campus Life and Dean of Students 

Students walk through the Tunnel of Awareness in the Cohen Student Union. Photos: Beverly Jensen

That vivid advice came from a discussion that took place at the Tunnel of Awareness recap meeting, a follow-up gathering for those in the Florida Gulf Coast University community who toured the tunnel in October. The meeting took place a week after FGCU’s Multicultural and Leadership Development Center (MLDC) coordinated the tunnel experience for the second consecutive year in the Cohen Student Union.

“Tunnel of Awareness is important because it shines a light on the different kinds of oppression that individuals experience daily, namely those individuals whose identities have been historically marginalized,” said Alexandra Pipitone, a curator for the display dedicated to microaggressions — the theme for one of five separate rooms used to create the tunnel. Each room was tailored to address an issue, the other themes being the LGBTIAQ+ community, immigration, disabilities and farmworkers’ rights.

The rooms attempt to place participants in the shoes of someone going through the social issues being discussed. This was done with the use of posters and photos with information covering examples of a room’s topic, many of which elicit emotional responses.

Emily Nanna, another curator for the microaggressions room, explained how the tunnel uses visual elements to get the message out.

“Tunnel presents issues in a very bold, in-your-face way,” Nanna said. “In that way, that’s why I think people can relate to or empathize more with the tunnel than with a regular social-media post.”

Photo shows exhibit
“Tunnel of Awareness is important because it shines a light on the different kinds of oppression that individuals experience daily, namely those individuals whose identities have been historically marginalized,” said Alexandra Pipitone, a curator for the display dedicated to microaggressions.

Pipitone elaborated on the importance of the experience to promote discovery and education. Individuals are led to feel they are no longer suffering through oppression in isolation, that there is a group of people working to end that oppression.

The MLDC had the challenge of working within health guidelines to still provide a profound experience at both the tunnel tour and recap meeting, despite crowd limitations. Most attended the recap meeting through Zoom, with a limited number of people in the room. Of the total 335 slots available for tunnel tours, 295 were filled. There were also walk-in participants, and attendance for the recap meeting has not been finalized.

“It certainly was a different adjustment dealing with COVID guidelines this year, but I don’t think it hurt our ability to get the message out there,” Nanna said.

Besides the safety precautions, Pipitone and Nanna spoke about other adjustments made to this year’s tunnel after the first event at FGCU in 2019.

Photo shows exhibit
An exhibit in the Tunnel of Awareness showed examples of microaggressions.

“I think this year, more than last year, we utilized more mediums to stimulate all the senses,” Pipitone said. “We all process information differently, and I think we did a good job of catering to that in order to create a well-rounded experience.”

One medium used in the microaggressions room was a mirror with implied messages  microaggressions send to those affected when articulated. Pipitone said this demonstrated how individuals who consistently hear, see and experience negative messaging internalize these negative experiences.

Visual presentations such as this one were intended to create a lasting impact. Blakely detailed a profound message he got from his own walkthrough of the rooms.

Photo shows exhibit
The Stonewall uprising marked a turning point for the LGBTIAQ+ community.

“The message that resonated with me the most from all the curated rooms was a statement, ‘I am human’,” he said. “That is very critical, because far too often individuals who are marginalized or minoritized don’t feel that sense of being human, or being treated as one.”

This year’s event also tried to intersect each topic with additional issues that were not specifically covered. For example, Blakely noted how the immigration theme connected to related issues such as present wealth gaps and access to education.

Next, curators are focused on growing the event significantly in 2021 and going forward. Planned innovations for next year’s event include a symposium with guest speakers and possibly live drama. That’s how the MLDC hopes to keep the light from the Tunnel of Awareness shining throughout the FGCU community and beyond.

  • Tyler Watkins is a junior majoring in journalism at FGCU who works with University Marketing & Communications