Members from Different Stages act out the sufferings of those who deal with the intolerance of body image. (Photo by Joseph Mastando)

by Joseph Mastando

On the night of March 2, Mount Saint Mary College students lined up in the lobby of Hudson Hall to enter into the long-awaited “Tunnel of Intolerance.” In hopes to increase awareness of discrimination and unite the student body, this interactive experience forced students out of their comfort zones and into the shoes of others.

More commonly referred to as “The Tunnel of Oppression,” the “Tunnel of Intolerance” is a program produced at colleges and universities around the country. The experience escorts audience members through a series of rooms, each providing either statistics and facts or scenes acted out to portray different types of oppression. As the audience members progress through the rooms, tour guides sporadically shout at them in order to increase the idea of an anxiety-ridden environment.

Mount Saint Mary College’s adaptation of the event provided six rooms, each representing the intolerances of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and disabilities. At the culmination of the event, two more rooms provided for an overall reflection and assessment. Immediately after they exited the tunnel, audience members were led into the “Hope Room” where they wrote on note cards the positive effects the event had upon them. Afterwards, Mount Saint Mary College’s Counseling Center and Campus Ministry provided sessions during which the groups could further evaluate the significance of the program.

Volunteers to sponsor the rooms poured in quickly, for the clubs at Mount Saint Mary College could not wait to get their voices heard. The six lucky clubs to support the event were the Black Student Union, Allies, Academic Council, Delta Leadership, the Psychology club, and Habitat for Humanity. As sponsors, these clubs were expected to provide a concept or skit for each room that would successfully address the issue at hand.

However, clubs were not the only ones to help out. Mount Saint Mary College’s Counseling Center, Student Activities, Residence Life, and Campus Ministry all endorsed the event, while helping organize, plan, and set up for it.

Although these campus organizations put an extemporaneous amount of work into the event, the true face behind the scenes belongs to Resident Director Paul Habernig. For years, Habernig fought to see this program on Mount Saint Mary’s campus, and fortunately, this was the year for his vision to be accomplished. He became exposed to the program at a Residence Assistant convention at SUNY Cortland, and later experienced the event first hand during the four years he spent working at the Culinary Institute of America.

Habernig, having a strong passion for student activities, hoped to impact the school and said, “The purpose of the event was not only educate students, but to bring clubs and students together,” and he believed this goal was accomplished. Additionally, he thought the program was a great success. He said, “The amount of support was overwhelming… I was expecting around 60 students, but instead we had 150 attend.”

Many others believed the event to be an overall success as well. Chelsea Hepburn, a Residence Assistant at Mount Saint Mary College and an actress in the “Tunnel of Intolerance” said, “I believe that everyone assumed their roles well and that the overall effect of the tunnel was achieved.”

Habernig plans to continue the event in the future and hopes to make it annual. So, next time the “Tunnel of Intolerance” finds itself in the hallways and classrooms of Mount Saint Mary College, make sure to stop by, educate yourself, and see first hand what all the buzz is about.