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Joining the Global Conversation: Oberlin Partners with UNITAR

By Fionna Farrell

Opinions Editor

In late September, Oberlin announced that it would be joining forces with UNITAR (UN Institute for Training and Research) and GFPA (Global Foundation for the Performing Arts) in an exciting, wide-ranging new partnership. As per the GFPA website, these partnerships’ main goal is to “expand international student access to world-class academic and musical instruction.” Although the partnerships include a cohort of other higher-education institutions across the country, the Oberlin partnership is the only one focused entirely on undergraduate studies, ostensibly allowing students worldwide to attend the institution.

It’s clear that Oberlin staff have huge visions for the potential outcomes of this partnership, in the future both near and far. As Conservatory Dean William Quillen told the Review, “Really, the goal is a much broader institutional partnership that is not only relegated to specific courses or specific seminars or sorts of things, but really a much, much, much bigger, longer, lasting institutional partnership.” Besides allowing students in UN member countries to attend Oberlin, other goals for the partnership include initiating a summer English immersion program and working with the UN on joint practice initiatives, such as performance and research opportunities—the first of which will be kicking off in December at Carnegie Hall, where Oberlin’s orchestra and choir will perform in front of the U.N. General Assembly.

Although its impact might not be visible in the next few months, this partnership represents an important path forward within Oberlin’s progressive history. For an institution that has been a bastion of liberalism since the 19th century, it is more critical now than ever that Oberlin takes steps to participate in this global conversation and initiative. In the coming months, we’ll be able to see just what this looks like for a school of Oberlin’s size and stature. Other schools across the country that participate in similar programs include Lehigh University, the University of Washington, Depaul University and Northeastern University—universities, not colleges, which are tenfold Oberlin’s size.

UNITAR ambassador Marco Suazo had this to say of Oberlin in particular, though: “We have found a partner with a history of producing graduates dedicated to serving the world.” President Ambar echoes this sentiment, stating “The principles behind this collaboration are consistent with Oberlin’s heritage and goals for the future.” In the past, Oberlin has been a leading progressive voice on the domestic front; in 2004, we were named one of the “dozen Distinctive Destinations” nationwide. But what does Oberlin’s initiative look like on a global scale? Thus far, our work around the world has been mostly relegated to environmental issues, such as, in 2010, when Oberlin became one of eighteen cities across the globe to sign the Clinton Climate Initiative. Moreover, over the past few years, Oberlin Conservatory Global has also offered virtual classes to music students of various levels across the world. But it’s more long lasting, intersectional initiatives like the UNITAR partnership that will help cement together our myriad goals and dedications, hopefully perpetuating our historical legacy for the better.

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