Editor’s Note: The Observer helped me find my way at CWRU


Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

The Class of 2023 began our time at Case Western Reserve University in fall 2019 not knowing how good we had it. While much of this is likely nostalgia, I remember just how exciting early freshman life was at CWRU. There were always people to meet, events to go to, clubs to join, late-night Den mozzarella sticks to eat and newly-found independence to take advantage of. While the acquaintances we made were transient, that was okay because there were always more opportunities to make some more. A true semblance of a community seemed like it existed, and with it a sense of belonging.

And then COVID-19 hit in the middle of our freshman year spring. While obviously not comparable to the impact the pandemic had on our world, it impacted the Class of 2023 to an extent that still hasn’t really been discussed. We may have had it “best” compared to other years, having at least had a mostly normal first year, and now we’ll have a completely normal graduation, which can’t be said for the Class of 2020, 2021, 2022 or 2024. However, that exposure to a normal college life made the impact of losing it all the more real. It felt like a promise had been snatched away.

I personally found myself unmoored, detached, isolated, you name it. Once the realization sunk in that we were not coming back to campus and rather that Zoom University was our new reality, I became aimless and reclusive. The relationships I had built over the past year were just starting to develop and now they were all snatched away. Moreover, the campus culture I had grown to love had fallen apart at the seams. I didn’t belong anywhere.

There were only a few connections that remained; The Observer would soon supersede them all. I first joined The Observer as a writer with much hesitation during that freshman fall. I had never written much in high school and as a prospective biology major, it seemed like I would be doing even less at CWRU. I had picked up a copy of The Observer early on and seeing all the different student writers describe different corners of campus and the student experience that I didn’t even know existed as a new first-year was eye-opening. I mused about being a part of that, so I signed the interest form at the Student Activities Fair. I just had a faint notion that it would be nice to do some writing on the side, but I never truly intended to follow up. When the first information session came along, I skipped it altogether. Truthfully, I only began writing for The Observer after awkwardly running into Yvonne Pan, the section editor who encouraged me to sign up in the first place while wandering around Tinkham Veale University Center. That chance encounter would fundamentally change the rest of my college experience. 

Starting as an Arts and Entertainment writer, I stuck to my comfort zone at first, writing mostly about my favorite movies before starting to cover events. Going to cool functions, eating food and interviewing interesting people made me fall in love with CWRU even more. The bustling student experience at CWRU became all the more apparent and admirable as I continued writing articles. Seeing my name in print was like a drug; I just wanted to write more and more. When the world fell apart there were suddenly no more events to write on and just writing about movies seemed useless. What point was there to write articles for a university that barely even existed anymore? At the same time, all students were feeling just as disconnected as I was; we all needed something to bind us to a college community being held together by Zoom rooms and Discord servers. As The Observer paused its print production and launched a digital newsletter, I was amazed by the hundreds of signups we got within days. Despite The Observer being unable to report what was happening on campus anymore, people still wanted to hear from us, and by extension from the CWRU students they were no longer seeing physically. We were all looking for something to latch on to. There had never been such a moment in student history at CWRU or at any other university, and now understanding the value we had in connecting students during such a disconnected time, I kept writing. The Observer gave me a sense of purpose and belonging.

Becoming the Arts and Entertainment section editor the next year, my priority became to document this truly unique period in student life. We were all trying completely new things for the first time. How would remote events work? Could a play even be done via a Zoom room? How could clubs even operate without the structures and procedures that had once held them together? How many movies and TV shows could we all actually watch on the numerous new streaming services being launched? These were all questions I wanted to answer and student experiences I wanted to relay to everyone else to remind them that they were not alone. While we were all stuck in our bedrooms, there were many CWRU students valiantly trying to create a mirage of a campus community, just in order to connect us all again. Remembering that would help me get through the darkest times of the pandemic. Each time I interviewed a club president trying to host a virtual meet-and-greet or a student government representative working to improve the limited student experience or a CWRU staff member who just wanted to hold some bingo games, I was reminded that while my experience at CWRU had radically changed, the university and its community had not abandoned me. These stories we were telling went far beyond the traditional definition of arts and entertainment; it felt demeaning to continue calling them that. Rather, we were giving a look into the life of CWRU students, including their interests, anxieties and hopes for the future. The name change to “Life” couldn’t have made more sense; it reflected the new perspective The Observer had given me on just how valuable our CWRU community is.

Meanwhile I began to meet people within The Observer’s editorial board. At first I was just able to see their lovely faces in Zoom tiles as we slogged away at issues late on Wednesday nights. Eventually upon a limited return to campus in spring 2021, I ran into the physical forms of my coworkers and it turned out those faces also had legs. Meeting others who shared my passion for relaying the student experience at CWRU and cared as deeply about this university’s community as I did was truly invigorating. They became some of my best friends, advising and consoling me on many matters inside and outside the paper. Though I had lost many casual acquaintances due to the pandemic, The Observer allowed me to develop real relationships through this time. I must particularly shout out a few Observer staff members for keeping me sane, including my mentor, former executive editor Nathan Lesch; my dear friend, former opinion editor Jordan Reif; my source of joy, former director of digital Media Hannah Allen; my partner in misery, outgoing opinion editor Karuna Lakhiani and my director of print Sara Khorshidi, who has particularly been invaluable as my right hand person and confidante. The newspaper honestly would fall apart without her and so would I.

As time passed, the university slowly started to reopen and more students started to return. The Observer started printing again, but we all realized that we really didn’t know how to do that anymore. So many of the guides, procedures, tips and tricks that previous staff had passed on to the next had been lost to our generation. Our first issue we accidentally produced an improper page count that couldn’t even be printed. The same loss of institutional knowledge was true all across CWRU. All of a sudden, we all found ourselves trying to rebuild institutions we only had the briefest interactions with, all from an external point of view. While this was frightening, it was all the same exciting. We may not have had the benefit of prior experiences, but we were also not beholden to the past. While the campus culture I experienced as a first-semester freshman would be far more robust than any following semester, it was not without its faults, with a noticeable lack of school spirit and engagement as a whole in CWRU matters. An opportune time had arrived to redefine our organizations, traditions and our student experience as a whole at CWRU.

I suddenly found myself in the role of Executive Editor in spring 2022, given the opportunity to do just that for our student newspaper. With the help of innumerable other members of the Editorial Board, I’ve worked to slowly rebuild The Observer into a staple of campus life, telling stories essential to the CWRU experience. Over the past year and a half, we’ve worked to overhaul how people interact with our organization, making the digital newsletter as essential as our print product, completely redesigning our print paper for the first time in a decade, starting the creation of weekly videos showcasing the CWRU community and overhauling how our social media operates. Other projects have included creating an endowment to support the independence of this paper in the future, creating a new payment system for staff members and even renaming our entire paper to better reflect our audience. There have been countless tweaks along the way to our practices, styles, standards, the stories we tell and the ways we tell them. Through it all, we’ve been able to rebuild this organization into one more connected to its community, informing it while no longer being apart from it. There is still much work to do to improve our news-gathering apparatus, but I could not be more proud of my team and the work we’ve done since returning from the depths of the pandemic. This has been such a unique time in the university’s history and I can be satisfied with knowing that we were able to document the student experience during this period, week in and week out.

Now as the Class of 2023 approaches graduation, things are starting to come full circle. Events, club meetings and social gatherings are back on campus, but not exactly like they were when they left us. We’ve gone through a lot as a class, seeing the fall and rebirth of our university’s student life. We are still rebuilding our institutions, but thankfully we are not doing it all the same way all over again. The CWRU community I see today is more active, spirited, engaged, resilient, diverse and aware than it ever has been. This didn’t happen by itself but rather because we all worked to get it to this point. In our quest to rebuild what had been lost to us, we managed to somehow make something all the better. It’s been my privilege to document this process through The Observer.

I often joke that my true major wasn’t biology or philosophy, but rather The Observer. Having spent countless hours on production nights, writing articles, delivering papers and promoting the organization, this is likely closer to the truth than I’d like to admit. Despite all the work, I could never give The Observer as much as it has given me. It gave me a purpose on this campus, a chance to make an impact and the opportunity to truly appreciate and understand the constant work being done by my peers to improve our university. To me, The Observer was more than just a student newspaper. It was a community, a lifeline and a source of hope.