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EOU helps students understand the Civil Rights Movement through virtual reality

EOU_News

LA GRANDE, Ore. – Eastern Oregon University is giving students and faculty the opportunity to virtually step through time to 1968 and witness events of the Civil Rights Movement through virtual reality presentations “I Am A Man” and “Driving While Black,” during Black History Month.  

“I Am A Man,” created by Derek Ham, puts users on the ground during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike and cycles through various computer-generated scenes and locations, culminating in the assassination of Martin Luther King. The experience lasts 10 minutes and uses a mix of animation and archived images with some interactivity.  

“Basically, the experience takes you through a few scenes. In the opening scene, there’s a garbage truck and garbage can and you’re able to pick up the can and dump it into the truck. It’s meant to set the stage to where you’re participating in events leading up to the sanitation workers’ strike. There’s a scene where there are actual strikers marching down the streets with signs and there are tanks going up and down the street,” said associate professor of library Sarah Ralston.   

“Driving While Black,” a virtual reality experience created by Felix & Paul Studios, is also available on-campus this month. It includes more real-world imagery and functions similarly to an oral history, as the user is being told personal stories while sitting in a restaurant booth. 

“It provided a completely different kind of experience. Have the set on and look to your left and you see an actual person rather than a computer-generated person. To me, ‘Driving While Black’ left more of an impression just because it felt like I was really sitting next to someone in a coffee shop,” said Interim Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion Mika Morton.  

Both experiences are part of a greater Black History Month project to provide students context to Civil Rights Movement events, along with the greater cultural, social and historical impact of the era.  

“I Am A Man” is available in the Multicultural Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or in the library with an online scheduled appointment made at guides.library.eou.edu/vr. “Driving While Black” is also available by appointment in the library.

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