Editor’s note: Searching for an identity through history

Eddie Kerekes, Executive Editor

Despite the best efforts of this university’s marketing department, the identity of Case Western Reserve University is hard to pin down.

On all of the logos, as well as the seal, of Case Western Reserve University, a year of establishment is listed: 1826. The year 1826 even appears in one of the most recent additions to the CWRU campus in an unexpected place, as the name of the personalized salad station in the food court in Tinkham Veale University Center. Subtract 1,000 from the year and you get 826. The name of the eatery? 8Twenty6.

But why does the university trace its history back to that specific year? It’s because, of the schools that eventually formed CWRU, the first founded was Western Reserve College in 1826.

Yet at that time in the early 19th century, Western Reserve was the only school established that would eventually form CWRU. And it wasn’t even in Cleveland but rather Hudson, Ohio. The founding of the Case School of Applied Sciences, which became the Case Institute of Technology, was in 1880. Case Tech, as it was also known, federated with Western Reserve University decades later.

The school as we know it today, Case Western Reserve University, formed from that federation in 1967. However, even that statement isn’t entirely true. Until 1988, alumni still received degrees from their respective schools. Starting in 1989, after the merging and restructuring of the undergraduate colleges, all undergraduate diplomas finally read “Case Western Reserve University.”  

As an engineering student, I often hear the school simply referred to as Case. Whether it’s from alumni, the official alumni magazine, my engineering honors fraternity or just looking at some of the old signage on buildings, I both see and hear about the greatness of Case.

But I don’t just go to Case. I also take classes in the College of Arts and Sciences, the spiritual and often literal descendant of Western Reserve University. Even I struggle to identify the school I attend. I want to be associated with the rigor and prestige of a Case education, but I also don’t want to disrespect the other institutions contained within this university.

It’s no wonder many other students struggle to name the school they attend when returning home and speaking with relatives. Without knowing the history behind the 31 characters that make up the name, it’s hard to fathom why an institution of higher learning would give itself such a long identifier.

The university itself even tried to confront the problem by simplifying down to just Case in 2006. After all, that is how most Clevelanders refer to the entire school. The effort went over poorly with alumni, mostly those associated with Western Reserve University. A blurb in Cleveland Scene said, “Case Western Reserve’s alumni are curtailing their donations over dissatisfaction with the college’s use of the brand name ‘Case.’”

Perhaps in response to the multi-million dollar snafu, the university’s Editorial Style Guide now states, “Do not use “Case” or “Case Western” in copy, as these names do not represent our university’s full history.” That is also the policy we follow at The Observer.

However, the university does fail to represent its full history.

In April 2018, CWRU hosted Legacy Week: Better Together, a week-long celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the federation of Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University. The event was highly publicized. Yet there was no university-wide celebration of the 190th anniversary of the founding of Western Reserve in 2016. I doubt there will be a bicentennial celebration in 2026 unless there is a surge of donations or support from alumni and students.

While our history is a big part of our identity, it isn’t the only factor. It also depends on feeling. Perhaps, it’s best to identify yourself differently in different situations. For instance, in job interviews with engineering firms, I can simply state I am a Case graduate. But when I’m reminiscing about my time on The Observer with students from all majors, I can claim the leadership of the student newspaper of Case Western Reserve University.

Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to pin down an identity. When I walk across the stage to receive my diploma in May 2020, I’ll be with all of my fellow graduates, regardless of their school. We’ll have all achieved the same goal. And when we leave, we’ll all have a Bachelor’s degree from a school that traces its history back to 1826. Whether we call it Case Western Reserve University, CWRU, Case or some other combination of those four words, it’s all the same school.

Despite the solid history, the identity remains as hard to pin down as ever.