Open Call, open minds: new campus space seeks to build connection, community

Students check in with each other and learn a poetry-making game during a Tufts Open Call meeting in Dowling Hall on Nov. 30, 2016. Juleen Wong courtesy Khuyen Bui

Disclaimer: Khuyen Bui is a columnist for The Tufts Daily. He was not involved in the writing of this article.

Wanting to give members of the Tufts community a space to do and share what they love with others, several students came up with the idea for Tufts Open Call, a new community on campus, last spring. As the name suggests, Open Call provides a space for anyone affiliated with Tufts to build connections with each other over different activities each week.

“Open Call is a manifestation of my hope to create [a community] for people to come together and do things that are meaningful and that they enjoy,” senior Khuyen Bui, a founding member of the group, said.

Open Call, which hosted its first event in November of 2016, gathers weekly on alternating Wednesday and Thursday nights in the Dowling Hall lounge at 8:45 p.m., according to Bui.

The students who organize Open Call purposefully avoid a hierarchical leadership structure. There are no presidents or club leaders, and they describe it as a community rather than a club. Sophomore James Ray, who is actively involved in Open Call, said everyone is encouraged to get involved with planning weekly events.

“One of the most important things about Open Call is that we keep it open,” Ray said. “We make it so that anybody who has ideas about the kind of events they want to plan can jump in, and we’ll help make them a reality.”

Bui said that he decided that the Dowling Hall lounge would be the ideal place to host Open Call events after having attended an art show there in April 2016.

“That night, when we saw artists and musicians coming into Dowling Hall lounge, we just thought, ‘This is such an amazingly beautiful space,'” he said. “I told myself, ‘Let’s use that space.’ I think it has so much potential.”

Aside from the aesthetics of Dowling, Bui also hopes to bring beauty and creativity to a building generally associated with admissions, career planning and paperwork, all of which tend to create a stressful environment. Before each meeting, Ray and others transform the Dowling Hall lounge by stringing around colorful lights, putting out food and pushing away the chairs. This is meant to create an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable and to set the scene for the events of the night.

Senior Juleen Wong, another active member of Open Call who played a major role in its inception, described the typical sequence of events of the weekly gatherings. The group begins by posing a thought-provoking question, such as, “What do you taste like?” or “What smells remind you of your teenage years?”

“It’s a way to get people in the mindset of the activities to come,” Wong said. “We try to make it a fun question that makes you think outside your daily routine.”

Afterwards, the group participates a in theme-related activity. Last semester, the broad theme was “anchoring.” This semester’s theme is “childhood sensations,” according to Wong.

“These themes help people connect in very fundamental ways,” Ray said. “It’s stuff that everybody has experienced.”

Each week, a specific aspect of the theme is explored. For example, a few weeks ago, the space was devoted to the sense of smell, according to Wong. Participants were paired up with strangers to get to know each other and then described them using scents. They also worked together to create a unique smell out of ordinary spices and other fragrances, Wong, who helped plan the activities for that week, said.

“The ability for smell to evoke a memory is kind of crazy, so we wanted to play around with that,” Wong said. “We also wanted to think about our tendency to make assumptions, and a lot of times we’re kind of scared to acknowledge that we do it constantly, so we were hoping to tie that in to the discussions and activities.”

Ray described an Open Call activity that he planned last semester in which everyone was blindfolded and then received a massage from someone else present.

“You never found out who it was, so the idea was you have this connection to 30 random people,” Ray said. “The whole idea is to create connections, and the way to do that is to break down people’s barriers. You have to get them in the kind of mood where they’re willing to make connections and interact with strangers.”

Each week, the activities end with closing circle to bring everyone back together for a final discussion.

“Sometimes we go around and share a takeaway, and that’s probably one of my favorite parts of the event,” Wong said. “People have some really amazing insight, and a lot of times they reference what someone else shared, someone they haven’t met before. It’s cool to see those connections being built.”

At the end of the gathering, people usually stay longer to talk to each other, building further on the bonds they had just made.

“One of the nicest things I’ve heard, feedback wise, is that people tell me, ‘I’ve just made this friend at Open Call.’ People feel they have made new friends,” Ray said.

All of those involved in Open Call have high hopes for its future. Already, the size of Open Call gatherings has grown to over 30 people each week, according to Wong. While there are many regulars, new people come each time.

The Open Call community is not just limited to Tufts students. According to Bui, professors, graduate students and other Tufts affiliates have been involved. Bui hopes to eventually expand this further by getting children involved to bring even more perspectives.

“We are just creating space in a community for many people that are yearning for that kind of meaningful connection,” Bui said. “I think the majority of Tufts students have not really found a community yet, or have found a community, but get stuck in that and want to meet different people.”

According to Bui, Open Call plays another important role in the Tufts community by creating a space for people to put aside their worries.

“We want people to have a sense of wonder and magic in [their] daily lives,” Bui said. “We also like to make people realize that they too can make magic, and they do.”