Vaxed, masked and hopeful

First years meet their new campus and one another during orientation.

Vaxed, masked and hopeful

CWRU welcomes students back to a live college experience with some precautions and plenty of excitement.

Case Western Reserve is approaching the start of fall classes with a sense of cautious optimism, reporting that 95 percent of staff and faculty are fully vaccinated against Covid 19 and virtually all students are inoculated as well.


The university plans to continue many of the pandemic protections enforced last year, including masking indoors and social distancing everywhere. But it is reopening dorms and dining halls and inviting students back to a college experience with a semblance of normalcy, even a hint of celebration.


“Our students are ready and I think we as a campus community are ready” for a return to college life, Lisa Camp, the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Provost, said in a Zoom presentation to staff and faculty August 12. Fall classes start August 23. First years began moving in August 15 to begin their Discover Week of orientation.


“We have a highly vaccinated campus,” said Sara Lee, the Director of Health Services at CWRU. “I’m very confident that campus is safe, that it’s a safe place to be.”


Dean Venkataramanan Balakrishnan applauded university administrators for their assertive and thoughtful response to the pandemic and said he looked forward to a fresh start for the Case School of Engineering.


“We have done our best. I think we have done extremely well,” he said. “I’m just so excited we’re all going to be back at school, so thank you all.”


Like universities around the country, CWRU struggled with how to maintain a healthy campus in light of a lingering pandemic and the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid, which often targets younger people. 


The university tried messaging, games and cash prizes to coax students to seek vaccinations. But those incentives only partially worked. The administration reported about 73% of students on campus were either fully vaccinated, or on their way to becoming fully vaccinated, by mid-July.


“We got stuck,” new university President Eric Kaler, PhD, told National Public Radio. “It was clear that additional incentives were probably not going to be effective in moving us to the 95-plus percent level that we think is necessary.”


His administration decided to require vaccination, and Kaler says that mandate — in addition to follow up phone calls and emails to students who hadn’t registered their vaccine cards — helped increase the vaccinated rate to 98% of students on campus.


The university is requiring staff and faculty, with few exceptions, to be vaccinated as a condition of employment and most have complied. The vaccination requirement extends to campus visitors, including alumni returning for Homecoming events in October.

Students, meanwhile, are simply excited to be at college and appear ready to bear any inconveniences to preserve the moment.

Shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday, August 16, some 1,600 masked first years streamed into the Veale Athletic Center, having just said goodbye to moms and dads, who were not invited to the University Welcome. This was for new students and a select cast of administrators.

President Kaler looked out over the restless throng and told them that he was, like they, new to CWRU. He told them two things he had learned: that Mitchell’s Ice Cream in Uptown takes Case Cash; and that they belonged to the university’s largest, most academically gifted class ever—based on their ACT and SAT scores.

“You’re here to learn how to impact the world,” Kaler said. “I am thrilled to be part of this university and I’m confident you will be, too.”



Orientation games sparked laughter and smiles on Case Quad.

President Kaler addresses 1,600+ first year students.

“We have done our best. I think we have done extremely well. I’m just so excited we’re all going to be back at school, so thank you all.”

— Dean Venkataramanan Balakrishnan


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