From Rwanda to California, Oberlin Students Are Connecting with the World

October 17, 2018
Hillary Hempstead
person sitting facing a screen, looking at another person
Daniel Spearman '17 connects with Rwandan musicians in the Oberlin_Portal Photo credit: Tekikki Walker '12

Since September 6, 2018, the Oberlin College community has been using a portal equipped with immersive audiovisual technology to engage with individuals in other Portal locations across the globe. The portal will be stationed in Wilder Bowl through November 10, 2018.

In early October, two musicians in Kigali, Rwanda, and one musician in Oberlin, Ohio, played, sang, freestyled, and talked during a Shared Studios portal connection.  

The connection paired musicians continents apart who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to interact, were it not for the portal connection between the cities. Immersive audiovisual technology inside each portal allowed trumpet player and member of the neo-jazz band SoundEvr Daniel Spearman '17 and Rwandan activist and hip-hop artist Maktain and Rwandan pop singer Weya to perform, talk about musical inspiration, and discuss their respective futures and careers. And while performing and talking about music was their primary focus, their discussion also meandered to other topics, including politics and culture.

Eloi Mugabe, the portal curator in Kigali, Rwanda, says this connection was memorable because each person seemed to really learn from the other.

“They talked about how music industries are different and how, as an artist, you have to come up with your approach based on what you stand for or the message you want to share. This was one of my favorite portal sessions because I think it really benefited both sides,” says Mugabe.

The Oberlin_Portal, created by art, design, and technology collective Shared Studios, is slated to remain in its current home in Wilder Bowl through November 10, 2018. Portals are equipped with immersive audiovisual technology that allows individuals to engage with others live, as if in the same room, with freestanding screen “walls” surrounding them. Live sessions include discussions, musical performances, and other interactions, and they are typically prearranged.

According to Oberlin_Portal curator Tekikki Walker ’12, participating in connections with others across the globe has been truly impactful.

“From a personal standpoint, it’s a humbling experience to be able to hear someone else share their views or life story and to be able to listen,” says Walker. “From an educational standpoint, I see the portal as a tool that helps others learn in a non-traditional way that’s also crucial to the learning and social experience.”

When Ellen Chamberlain, portal curator at Oakland International High School—a school whose student population includes immigrants, refugees, and English language learners—initiated a connection with the Oberlin_Portal, her hope was to connect with someone who has ties to the immigrant community. Chamberlain also wanted to find someone with an understanding of the obstacles this group must overcome to not only attend but also thrive in college. At Oberlin, Walker was able to connect the Oakland group to second-year philosophy and religion double major José, a first-generation college student who identifies as Latinx.

student stands in front of Oberlin_Portal
José stands in front of Oberlin_Portal. Photo by Tekikki Walker '12

“As a first generation, low-income Latinx student, [I know] how difficult the transition [to college] can be, despite having an abundance of resources. No one was telling me what I needed because they didn’t know, and even I didn’t know what I needed. I wanted to tell [the students in Oakland] that there might be a little fear going into college, but above anything else, I wanted to let the students know that they matter, they’re important. That’s what would’ve helped me in the beginning—to be affirmed by someone closer to my identity. I hope they felt like someone closer to their identity cares,” says José.

José describes the portal experience as a surprisingly authentic one and says that he found it to be highly engaging.

“You can’t really prepare yourself and draft a template to use in these settings. When you have the intention to inform and do it from a place that seeks no reward, then that’s where the purest, most engaged energy comes from, at least in my opinion,” says José.

When asked what she would tell others about the portal experience, Walker says, “If I could encourage anyone to visit the portal, I would say to just come, and be curious. Education is about exploration!”

To learn more or to schedule a portal pairing, go to the Oberlin_Portal webpage. Once your request is submitted, the Oberlin_Portal curator will contact you to tailor your experience.

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