Drawing attention to discrimination

By Editorial Board

One Tribe, the Office of Multicultural Affairs ‘diversity council, recently started Columbia’s first “Tunnel of Oppression,” a demonstration that aims to raise awareness about important issues of racism, bigotry and harassment. The project might best be compared to a haunted house, where visitors are guided through a series of rooms to experience the sorts of oppression and conflict many groups face every day. Such a program is a valuable experience for Columbia students.

In a seemingly open-minded college, students can sometimes forget the rest of the world isn’t always as accepting. The atmosphere on other college campuses can be less accepting of other groups than Columbia is, particularly for the LGBTQ community. Because students will leave the college and get jobs in environments that can be much more hostile than Columbia, it’s important to be acquainted with the realities of the outside world. Forcing students to confront these issues in college will better prepare them to handle conflicts that may arise in the future.

Even though most people at Columbia don’t typically do or say intentionally offensive things, some may come here with negative preconceptions about certain cultures. In addition to blatant acts of discrimination, people can sometimes make offhanded comments without realizing they’re hurtful or insensitive. Projects like “Tunnel of Oppression” force these people to confront and rethink some of those preconceived notions. It would be naive to think racism, gender bias and homophobia don’t exist at Columbia simply because they are less visible, but drawing attention to these issues is a good first step toward resolving them.

Furthermore, the active nature of “Tunnel of Oppression” ensures it will leave a mark on visitors. Instead of a passive work of art on display that can be ignored, the event forces visitors to participate and be actively engaged by it. Participants were put into scenes and situations that helped them understand firsthand what other people deal with every day.

One Tribe should consider hosting more programs like this in the future. Anything that can raise public awareness about such sensitive issues and affect people in a meaningful way is a welcomed addition to any campus.