Staff and student workers at the Center for International Affairs holding up "You are welcome here" signs in various languages
Center for International Affairs staff and student workers hold up signs saying "You are welcome here" in various languages.

University community unites behind #YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU campaign

Colorful powder and water swirled in the air Sunday afternoon at Freiberger Field for Case Western Reserve University’s annual Holi festival.

While the event honored a tradition observed in India, Nepal and other countries in Southeast Asia, it was just the latest in a number of campus celebrations that showcase the student body’s many different cultures.

International students at Case Western Reserve represent more than 75 countries. While global engagement long has been a university priority, this year’s federal developments have catalyzed campus-wide efforts to ensure that students from other countries know that they are valued and celebrated here.

The Center for International Affairs has led much of this activity, launching a #YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU campaign in February that included a kickoff celebration, video submissions and more. The initiative was inspired by a nationwide #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign involving nearly 200 higher education institutions, including Case Western Reserve’s.

In late January, President Trump issued an executive order that suspended entry to the U.S. for individuals from seven countries in the Middle East as well as all refugees. In the weeks that followed federal courts temporarily blocked the measures, the White House issued another order, and courts again intervened. On campus, university leaders called the original order antithetical to Case Western Reserve’s values, and the Faculty Senate passed a resolution condemning the order. Student groups also have expressed objections.

For international students on campus, especially those directly impacted by the executive orders, the campaign has made a difference.

“I greatly appreciate all of those attempts for providing a supporting environment at CWRU,” Reza Erfani, a PhD candidate in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and president of the Case Iranian Society, said. “I would like to convey that it meant a lot to us.”

Students also believe that the #YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU campaign has the potential to take on new forms and make a lasting impact.

“It will encourage more students, especially domestic students, to get to know the international students here on campus and to hear their voice,” Amy Qin, a junior chemical engineering major and president of International Club, said.

Most recently, members of the campus spread the message in a four-minute video.

Faculty, staff and students appeared in the video. Among them were representatives of the Case Iranian Society and International Club.

“Let’s stand up for what we believe in,” Erfani said. “It is exactly the very moment that international students from any country with any culture and faith want to see—the whole community’s support.”

#YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU signs continue to hang in Tomlinson Hall lobby, making sure the message is not forgotten. And the Center for International Affairs intends to incorporate it into everything they do. At Sunday’s Holi celebration, 500 shirts with #YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU displayed on them were given out in just 10 minutes.

“It’s less of a campaign and becoming more a part of who we are as a Center for International Affairs,” Jody Bonhard, coordinator of communications at the center, said. “And honestly, the way it’s been picking up on campus, who we are as a campus.”

This weekend, yet another event will celebrate Case Western Reserve’s dedication to diversity. The World Expo, held Saturday, April 15, from 1 to 4 p.m. in Thwing Center, aims to showcase the many cultures represented at the university.

“We are, at the core, a university that celebrates everybody,” Bonhard said. “It’s important to reiterate that nothing has changed. The world around us may be questioning that, but we are a campus where everyone is welcome.”