Legacy Week gives CWRU history the attention it deserves


Shreyas Banerjee/The Observer

In honor of Legacy Week and the anniversary of CWRU’s federation, students flocked to the Tinkham Veale University Center for their choice of either a Western Reserve Red Cat t-shirt or a Case Institute of Technology Rough Rider t-shirt.

Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

Walking around the campus of Case Western Reserve University on July 1, 2017, Janice Gerda, CWRU’s associate vice president for Student Affairs, noticed something was missing. The day marked the 50th anniversary of the federation between the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, bringing the rival schools together into the university we are all a part of today. Yet from seeing our campus alone, you wouldn’t have known it was different from any other day. CWRU had forgotten, or perhaps suppressed, its own history.

If you ask a CWRU student today, most of them would likely be able to tell you that CWRU was originally made up of two different institutions, resulting in our clunky name. They probably couldn’t tell you much more than that, which is really a shame. When Western Reserve was founded in 1826, it was one of the biggest hubs for the anti-slavery movement in the United States. Its humanities-focused progressive bent would continue for decades as they became one of the first universities to admit women and Black students in the region, with some professors and students even joining the Union effort during the Civil War. Case’s history is just as rich, founded by a bunch of science nerds who liked collecting birds, plants and insects and decided to make a whole STEM-focused school out of it. The schools featured one of the oldest athletic rivalries in the nation, dating back to 1891, and often filled the 70,000-seat Cleveland Stadium during their annual Thanksgiving football games. When the two universities merged, it was a shock and not one that was handled well by many alumni. Following the federation, traditions from both universities were jettisoned so as to not offend the other university, explaining a bit of our lack of school spirit. Students continued to be divided between Case and Western Reserve until 1992, when Western Reserve College was renamed the College of Arts and Sciences while the name for the Case School of Engineering remained. For a while there seems to have been a concerted effort to forget the divisions within the university, even going so far as to just refer to the university as “Case” in 2006, completely neglecting the Western Reserve side of our history. Following the blowback to that plan, the university wanted little to do with addressing the contentious topic of federation. But as the years roll on and the pains become less acute, student leaders are beginning to embrace our legacy.

As the 2017-2018 academic year started, many student leaders realized with shock that the anniversary of the federation hadn’t been acknowledged at all by CWRU. Thus, the Student Presidents’ Roundtable (SPR)—a group comprised of the heads of the major student organizations on campus such as the Class Officer Collective (COC), Interfraternity Congress (IFC), Panhellenic Council (PHC), Residence Hall Association (RHA), Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC), University Media Board (UMB), University Program Board (UPB) and Undergraduate Student Government (USG)—began working on a way to recognize the union and the ways we’ve improved since, advised by Gerda. While some alumni and administrators were still apprehensive about addressing the controversial federation, those students proudly promoted it, creating “Legacy Week” in spring 2018. Set during the last week of classes, Legacy Week was themed around celebrating how Case and Western Reserve were actually “better together” and acted as a way to acknowledge the dual histories of CWRU. It was also a means to bring together all the year-end events such as Hudson Relays and Springfest under one banner, while incorporating new ones. As a result, a tradition was born, creating a new sense of spirit that is often missing at our corporate-feeling university.

Now returning for its sixth year, Legacy Week preparations were again the work of SPR, coordinating events across all the major student organizations on campus. The usual mainstays are still here, including the historic Hudson Relays and the convivial Springfest, which will feature 2 Chainz as its headliner on Saturday April 29. However, some newer events for CWRU students have arrived as well. These include a CWRU history walking tour conducted by Gerda, a pep rally for Hudson Relays, a pancake breakfast organized by UPB, a “Wellness Day” organized by IFC/PHC, a goat petting zoo organized by RHA and a bouquet making event with the Mather Center of Women to recognize the work of the Women’s Center and the philanthropist and namesake of the Women’s College at Western Reserve, Flora Stone Mather. 

“[The goats are] such a fun event because it’s like a de-stress event, but it’s also like a happy thing to start us off on a great Legacy Week,” said RHA president and second-year neuroscience student Jeyashri Rameshbabu.

In addition, COC organized their first “Spirit Week” with events like Pajama Day and CWRU Merch Day for the whole student body to participate in, each class competing against one another. Tinkham Veale University Center featured old home movies of past life at CWRU on their media boards while the Kelvin Smith Library showcased old fraternity and sorority memorabilia from their archives as part of a Legacy Week pop-up.

However, the main initiative undertaken by SPR as a whole this year was a t-shirt war, with retro-themed shirts given out promoting CWRU’s predecessor institutions and their mascots. Students could choose to affiliate with either Western Reserve and pick up a Red Cat t-shirt, or with Case and pick up a Rough Rider t-shirt. While most of today’s CWRU students have some connection to one of the two former universities, either through the College of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering, they could pick either shirt depending on what they thought fit their personality best. To help the undecided, UPB president and fourth-year neuroscience student Laura Marsland created a BuzzFeed quiz titled “Plumber or Poet?” to help designate students as one or the other, with the name taking inspiration from epithets that Case and Western Reserve students hurled at each other. The quiz featured questions regarding the historical locations of Case and Western Reserve, as well as elements of campus that draw their roots from either institution, all in a pun-filled way. 

“I’m excited to see what people get. I’m excited to see if there is a bias at all,” said Marsland.

SPR planned on creating pop-up events throughout the week to give out the shirts, but due to their massive popularity, they ran out of all 1,000 within two hours of their introduction on Tuesday April 25. The Case shirts ran out far quicker than the Western Reserve shirts, but both had their fans.

“I’m excited to finally embrace our history and embrace our inner rivalry,” said SPR chair and fourth-year applied mathematics student Bishwadeep Bhattacharyya. “Hopefully, we can use it to actually develop some school spirit that’s not fake or coming in from outside.”

“I think historically, [the federation] has been a little bit of a sore spot,” Gerda said. “But I love this sort of student-led effort to say, ‘Okay, we acknowledge that. We see that, we recognize it, but it brought us here. So it’s a good thing.’ And this is a wonderful place. It’s an amazing place. In the end, it is better together.”