Anderson Common’s atmosphere has a new flavor — an international flair influenced by 97 countries’ flags prominently lining the cafeteria’s walls, featuring colors from France and Qatar to Singapore and Taiwan. These flags represent the countries of current and past international undergraduates as well as current graduate students.
The display went up Tuesday, Oct. 11 in the late hours of the night, with finishing touches happening early the next morning before students arrived for breakfast, thanks to the work of Facilities Management. The display — which will rotate every year to reflect the international demographics of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies — has found a permanent home in Anderson Commons.
Ivester said that the idea was tossed around informally about a year and half ago over an email chain. While “creating an international presence” was a priority for the Student Engagement office, it was President Philip Ryken who pushed for this presence to finally become a reality, according to Ivester. After Brittany Hawkins from the International Student Program office called various colleges with similar visions to get display ideas, a proper home had to be found.
They considered a few key locations around campus, such as Lower Beamer and the hallway stretching between Anderson Commons and Coray Alumni Gymnasium, but settled on the cafeteria as the “key venue” for the project. It was a place that offered ample space and already operated as a “center of hospitality,” where students come together for meals.
Hawkins researched current and past undergraduate students, as well as graduate students and employees, to find out the number of countries represented in Wheaton. Campus Planning, along with the campus architects, then began to formulate a schematic with the measurements that add up to the display students see now.
Among the current undergraduate population, about 50 countries are represented. Anderson Commons has space for 97 flags, so the remaining 47 spots were filled first by past international undergraduate students, then current international graduate students and college employees, with overlap between the groups.
Sophomore Cindy Hu, who spent time in both China and Tanzania growing up, expressed her excitement over the new display. The flags, she said, “make me feel that my identity is a part of the Wheaton family.”
This is part of the vision driving the display, according to Ivester — that “a seat at the table at Wheaton” would be open for international students to feel welcomed.
Some students have questioned the absence of the American flag in the display. Ivester did not see the absence as disrespectful or dismissive, since the U.S. flag is featured prominently in several locations across campus, most notably flying from Blanchard Tower. Now, however, there is a flag placed above one of the fireplaces in the dining hall. Ivester is planning to meet with Captain David Iglesias, associate professor of politics and law, to discuss the federal guidelines and expectations involved in hanging the flag.
The insistence on displaying the U.S. flag, though, detracts from the larger hope for the display from Ivester’s perspective. He affirmed the American identity of the campus, but hoped for a “deeper appreciation from Western students in recognizing we’ve got students from around the world here.” The display is a move toward deepening the campus’ understanding and awareness of hospitality.
Regardless, the flags are here to stay, with plans to shift and change them as the campus expands to further reflect “For Christ and his Kingdom.” Reflecting on the display, Hu said, “It’s a small scale of how God’s kingdom should look like. By the end, all nations will worship and praise him!”