Tunnel of Oppression highlights social issues
Biomedical laboratory science senior Fatima-Iram Din stood confidently at the front of a dark room Tuesday night, in front of a crowd which formed for this year’s “Tunnel of Oppression.” A single light illuminated her face as she announced four poignant words — “This is an exposition.”
For the next few minutes, Din spoke passionately about the terrorist group ISIS and the impact their actions are having on people overseas. Above all, she emphasized the lack of empathy in the United States for people in the Middle East.
While the piece certainly was an exposition of the Western world’s callous attitude to suffering it also set the stage for the rest of the evening.
Din’s performance was followed by the stories of five others and preceded by another. Each piece was an exposition of some topic the student speakers were passionate about or had experienced in their own lives.
Although the Union’s Mosaic Multicultural Unity Center is typically a bright location, with one wall made entirely of windows and the adjoining wall made entirely of mirrors, those windows were covered with black curtains.
It was a dim setting for the 2015 production of “Tunnel of Oppression.”
Psychology junior Grace Taylor Loring directed this year’s show after being involved with the group for the past three years. She said the topics change from year to year but are chosen based on relevance to the student community.
“Our topics this year include patriarchal effect on men, mental illness stigma, ISIS, George Will, s--- privileged people say, transitioning and body image,” Loring said.
The piece she wrote and performed last year, “My Smile,” was performed this year by theatre and arts and humanities freshman Camille Thomas. It focused on social stigmas of mental illness and the struggle of those who suffer from them, Loring said.
“A lot of (these) topics happen to people at MSU, but a lot of people think of oppression as a far-off land they don’t think it actually happens,” she said. “This gives real-world perspective.”
Another piece, “Affliction,” was written and performed by a participant who preferred to remain anonymous. The piece documents her struggle with emotional abuse at the hands of her father and her continuous journey on the road to recovery.
She chose to join Tunnel of Oppression and write her own piece because she wanted to give a voice to a type of abuse that is usually ignored or silenced, she said.
But getting to the point where she could perform the piece publicly wasn’t easy.
“The first time I performed (“Affliction”) in front of Grace, I bawled my eyes out,” she said. “All of these feelings I’d thought I’d repressed just poured out of me.”
At the conclusion of each show, the audience is brought to a debriefing room to digest the emotions of each story and engage in thoughtful discussion.
The debriefing was led by John Lee, a psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center. He joined the program at the behest of a former director who observed the powerful reactions audience members had to the pieces.
He believes in the power the show has in reaching people through stories of personal experiences.
“It isn’t us telling them what oppression is,” Lee said. “It’s not a powerpoint, it’s not a lecture. ... It’s meant to give a voice to people who don’t have voices.”