Eastern Michigan University is going all out to recognize its international students.
The university is installing 108 banners featuring 108 students from more than 40 countries. The banners, which are being installed on light posts across the campus and into the surrounding city of Ypsilanti, include the hashtag “#YouAreWelcomeHere” and are one manifestation of a national campaign by that name to communicate American universities’ openness to international students.
“The overall message of being a welcoming environment for international students has just been received very positively,” said Walter Kraft, Eastern Michigan’s vice president for communications.
Eastern Michigan changes out its light-post banners annually to recognize various groups on campus. Last year the banners featured the university’s Honors College students, and in past years they’ve featured faculty members and alumni. This is the first time the university has recognized its international students in this way.
Eastern Michigan, which is in the greater Detroit area, enrolls nearly 1,000 students from more than 80 countries, with the largest groups coming from India, China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Nigeria, Iran, Brazil, France, Taiwan and Turkey.
In addition to the banners, Eastern Michigan is promoting the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign on its social media channels, with a typical post featuring the picture, name and major of one of the 108 students featured on the banners and a quote about why they chose Eastern Michigan. The university also plans to install a 23-foot-tall, 80-foot-wide banner featuring all 108 images on the wall of a parking garage in the center of campus.
The university has also created a video as part of the campaign (below).
div class=”media_embed”> Eastern Michigan banner showing Veronica Konglim, an international student from Cameroon.[/caption]
One of the students featured in the campaign is Veronica Konglim (right), a Ph.D. student from Cameroon who is studying education. Konglim first came to Eastern Michigan on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages in 2009. After graduating in 2011, she returned to Cameroon, only to come back to Eastern Michigan to take up a Ph.D. two years later.
“I came back because I loved it here and I wanted to do a Ph.D.,” she said. “I had built a community here and I love the campus and the city of Ypsilanti, and besides studying I also did a lot of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. It’s something that I really enjoyed. When I had the opportunity to come back, I did not hesitate.”
“I truly do feel welcome here, so I thought maybe this is something I should really be a part of,” she said. “It was an opportunity for me to say thank you and to confirm, that yes, this is really true, I really do feel welcome here, and if anyone out there is thinking about coming here and is hesitant, my story should be a testimony that this campus is really welcoming.”
More than 250 colleges and universities have joined the national #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, which is being coordinated out of Temple University and has received the support of organizations including the National Association for College Admission Counseling and NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The State Department's Bureau of International and Cultural Affairs has also promoted the hashtag on its Twitter feed.
A similar campaign in the U.K., #WeAreInternational, has the support of more than 160 universities there. That campaign started in 2013 after international students expressed concerns about negative media coverage and certain political statements about immigration, according to the #WeAreInternational website.
Many colleges participating in the U.S. campaign have created videos like Eastern Michigan's conveying the YouAreWelcomeHere message. The first such video — and the first use of the hashtag for this purpose — came from the international education company Study Group, which published a video last November featuring some of its partner universities.