Events are coming back to campus

UPB’s Back to School Bash and KYN’s Palooza bring life to CWRU


Chris Heermann/The Observer

MAX brings life back to campus in the first in-person concert since 2020.

Shreyas Banerjee, Life Editor

As I walked from my apartment towards the central part of campus, following the throngs of students all headed towards promised fun, I was struck by a simple thought—“I’ve missed this.” For the first time in over a year, we were heading towards an event, a real-life event. And not just one event, but two, right next to each other, with one on Freiberger Field and the other on the adjoining East Bell Commons. After a year that made Case Western Reserve University feel more like an abandoned movie set than a college campus, things are starting to come back to life.

Events aimed at students are the bedrock of college life, with their regular occurrence filling out all our schedules when we take periodic breaks from our incessant studying. For many campus organizations and clubs, the events they hold are their raison d’être, with weeks of planning usually going towards providing these valuable additions to student life. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that, forcing clubs to switch all their programming to online versions that never quite caught on the way in-person ones do. With Zoom fatigue present and a lack of options when it comes to digital planning, events never became part of pandemic life. I, personally, found myself just switching between classes and then logging off for the day, with no desire to be further engaged in student life. This had caused major pain for organizations, as with no real events to speak of, clubs bled membership and new people were not coming. Now, after a year of sparsely attended events held on Zoom, many were left wondering if campus life, and the larger college experience, would ever really recover.

The answer seemed to come on Aug. 28, the first Saturday with the entire undergraduate student population back on campus, as two groups held events right next to each other that afternoon. One, hosted by the University Program Board, or UPB as it is more commonly known, marked the return of bombastic, larger-than-life productions, while the other, hosted by Know Your Neighbors (KYN), a campaign formed by CWRU students and alumni, showcased the restoration of the small-scale, intimate gatherings we all know and love.

UPB is one of the largest organizations on campus, and with their singular focus of throwing events, their return to in-person programming was a welcome sight to see. Seeing the bouncy houses, cornhole boards, refreshments and concert stage brought a warm feeling to my heart. Titled the UPBack to School Bash, the event was truly a welcome back to in-person life, with a myriad of activities including tie-dying, caricature artists, a photo booth and “Giant Jenga,” all providing things to do for an activity-starved student populace. All this was anchored by the food and music. With university regulations still stipulating that communal food be discouraged, the pre-packaged sandwich boxes from Jolly Scholar, chicken from Hell’s Fried Chicken and cookies from Insomnia Cookies provided the togetherness and satisfaction that only food can bring. On the large concert stage, performances from the band The Aces, followed by singer-songwriter MAX glued the entire thing together as students bopped out together for the first time in ages. For many, this might’ve been the first live music performance they had attended since the beginning of the pandemic. As we all jumped and shouted along to the beat, an electric feeling washed over me, a feeling that only comes from being together with others again. 

Fourth-year biomedical engineering major Shivika Aggarwal, the president of UPB, was enthusiastic about the return to campus with the bash, saying, “It was a great way to welcome back students of all classes onto campus. Many students had never set foot on campus, let alone experience an event this large. It was also UPB’s first time planning an event [of] this magnitude.”

Fourth-year biomedical engineering major Mark Madler, the vice president of UPB, added, “It was a great change in pace going from digital to in-person programming. Planning in-person programming requires a lot more logistics to account for,” with Aggarwal then concurring that “It was difficult reaching the first-year students as none of them had UPB on social media and we hadn’t been able to join their Facebook pages. It was also difficult planning this event so far in advance over the summer, before COVID-19 procedures had been finalized.”

All in all, the bash was an unmitigated success, bringing hundreds of students together for a night of fun right on campus, something we had all been lacking for a long time. The Know Your Neighbors event next door was also a delight to go to, for very different reasons. KYN was set up last year as an ongoing campaign to connect CWRU students to the communities in Cleveland around them. With so many students hardly venturing outside of University Circle, the group aims to familiarize us Spartans with those around us and build a more positive relationship with local residents.

With that intention, KYN held a “Community Palooza” on East Bell Commons, bringing in local performers and vendors along with student ones with the aim of educating everyone about the people living right next door. Those tabling included Capo’s Cheesesteaks and the Cleveland Metroparks, along with student organizations such as WRUW, the student radio station, and CWRU Ohio Students Association, a grassroots organizing endeavor that was registering people to vote at their table. This, along with performances from campus favorite a cappella group, Dhamakapella, and Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell’s rock band, The Footprints, made for a strong message of unity across structural barriers.

“Know Your Neighbors chose to hold this event to kick off our work for the semester and engage first-year students and students of all ages, early on by providing an asset-based perspective of the local community!” CWRU alum and KYN founder Delaney Jones said, “Most of the time what new students hear about the local Cleveland and East Cleveland community early on in their college experience is just something along the lines of ‘don’t go under the bridge.’ While students need to know that they are in an urban area with crime, and need to know how to keep themselves safe, we want to simultaneously combat some of the racially biased narratives and expose students to the assets that exist in local communities as well, a more holistic view that doesn’t view communities as solely defined by poverty, violence, or their deficits.”

By inviting close to 20 local businesses and organizations to campus, the event attempted to show students the work happening locally, and it did so successfully. Talking to all these people and hearing their hopes for a new type of relationship between CWRU and Cleveland residents made one hopeful. But beyond that, just talking to people in general, out and about, was a wonderful way to start the semester and a great deviation from the isolated lives we have been living. Together with the UPB event, the palooza promised a return to campus life and interaction, in full force with all aspects intact. Whether large-scale or small and intimate, students are trying to make campus life more enjoyable, and there is no indication that we will go back again.