Message from International Christian University (ICU) , No3

Update: September 24, 2020

On June 30, more than 100 students graduated from ICU, but the pandemic had kept most of them off campus after April 1. They could not enjoy the tunnel of cherry blossoms in full bloom, fresh green leaves, azaleas in front of the chapel and the hydrangeas before they left. The university livestreamed a congratulatory message to the graduating class, calling their names one by one, as is the custom at our Commencement Ceremony.

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Message from ICU , No.3(October 1, 2020) 

No One Should Be Left Behind

- Until internationalism, dormitory life and tuitions no longer pose a risk -

Etsuko Kato, Dean of Students

2020ml_no3_img01.jpgOn June 30, more than 100 students graduated from ICU, but the pandemic had kept most of them off campus after April 1. They could not enjoy the tunnel of cherry blossoms in full bloom, fresh green leaves, azaleas in front of the chapel and the hydrangeas before they left. The university livestreamed a congratulatory message to the graduating class, calling their names one by one, as is the custom at our Commencement Ceremony.

2020ml_no3_img04.jpgDuring the spring term, on a campus devoid of students, I thought about what the university, particularly ICU, means to us. ICU's rapid transition to online learning was lauded within and outside the ICU community as proof of sincere concern for student safety. The smooth shift was evidence of the solidarity among our faculty, staff and students. At the same time, the pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities in distinctive features of our education such as internationalism, on-campus housing and high tuition cost, although we have always prided ourselves on offering a multicultural environment with residential facilities.

Founded in 1953, ICU was the first university in Japan to have "international" in its name. It bore the hope of society in the post-war years as a new university. For us, the June Commencement has been a tradition since the founding days, along with the ceremony in March. Switching to a September school calendar from the traditional April start was frequently discussed in Japan when schools were closed down in April due to the pandemic, although the agenda seems to have been shelved soon after.

At ICU, students enter in September and graduate in June along with those who do in April and March. We have accepted international students with those from the Japanese system for more than half a century now. In recent years, with international (entered ICU through EJU Based Admissions mainly from domestic language schools) and returnee students entering in April, the distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese students at ICU is fading more than ever. Our one-term-only programs also contribute to the flow of inbound and outbound students throughout the year.

When the pandemic hit, the international nature of our community was a source of risk and confusion. Travel restrictions from China and Korea implemented in February were gradually extended to European countries and the U.S. Students found themselves unable to travel to Japan or return to their home countries. Many were at a loss trying to figure out where they would be most safe, in Japan or back home. In advising students preparing for the new term in September, this will remain a difficult problem for the university. Even with a hybrid education system blending online and face-to-face classes, the confusion will continue for a year or two.

2020ml_no3_img02.jpgLife in the dormitories also posed a significant risk in terms of safety. A rare example in Tokyo, our on-campus housing has a capacity of approximately 800, which constitutes about a third or fourth of our student population. The ten student dormitories ranging from Showa-style buildings to modern 7-story apartments have a considerable degree of autonomy. Residents have established their own rules since the founding days. We have always been proud of the dormitories, where conflicts are resolved with solutions befitting the diverse culture cultivated in them.

However, in dormitories where residents share bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens, there remains little room for social distancing. This was why we had to ask them to move out temporarily in March, with the exception of those who had nowhere else to go. Among the approximately 600 who left, many voiced their anxiety and emotional distress.

During this time, I remembered a story I read in a Japanese language textbook a long time ago. A vessel carrying evacuating children during World War II had been attacked by the Americans. The trembling children on deck did not have the courage to dive into the water by themselves. The accompanying teacher picked them up one by one and threw them off board as far as possible to prevent them from being dragged into the sea with the sinking ship. It was my duty to move the students out for their safety, despite their protests. When we consider our reopening strategy, utmost caution will be required in making decisions about safety in the dormitories.

2020ml_no3_img04.jpgThe third factor that posed a risk was tuitions. In providing high-quality education in small numbers, our fees are not inexpensive compared to other private universities in Japan. However, our students have always been gratified by the education and services we provide, as reflected by the high rankings we receive (usually at the top of the list for private universities in Japan) for student satisfaction in surveys such as the Times Higher Education Japan University Ranking in 2019, in which ICU was ranked first overall among private universities for two years, and those featured in some Japanese popular magazines from time to time. We appreciate the tremendous support from parents willing to finance the education at ICU.

But the pandemic exposed the existence of students who were not relying on their parents to fund their education. Those paying their way through college with student loans and part-time jobs struggled from loss of income due to stints disappearing with the spread of the coronavirus. Others suffered from the impact of the pandemic on their parents' fluctuating income.

To support students facing financial difficulty, the ICU Alumni Association and Japan ICU Foundation (a support foundation of ICU based in New York) established the COVID-19 Emergency Fund to collect donations from alumni, faculty and staff. With this Fund, ICU would exempt fall term tuition of approximately 100 students to help them continue their studies. The ICU Church has also set up the Kakekomi Bokin (literally, "Fund raising scheme to help those who need immediate help"), to support students pay for basic needs, as many have lost their income from part-time jobs.

Internationalism, the residential style of life on campus and the tuition have been exposed as vulnerabilities amidst this pandemic. But the crisis has also enabled us to reaffirm commendable features of ICU. With limited access to countries overseas, we feel the need for learning across international borders all the more. The anger and sadness we saw in students leaving the dormitories have shown how much they love living on campus. Students' dire need for financial support in this pandemic provides proof that they chose ICU despite the hardship in making it economically feasible to study here.

In response to student expectations, ICU will renew its creed "No one should be left behind."* We will persevere through this pandemic by trusting, appreciating and protecting each other, until assembling on campus becomes nothing special.

Lastly, we would like to send a message to all the prospective students,
"ICU wishes you good health and safety in your own place. Please remember that, if you are interested in ICU, you are already a part of our community. We look forward to being e-connected, and to seeing you face-to-face on this beautiful campus, in the very near future".


*"No one should be left behind...and no human right ignored." A response from a body of independent human rights specialists warning that basic human rights have been overlooked in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (adopted in 2015 at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit). "

From the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Website:


Profile of Professor Etsuko Kato

Professor Kato started teaching at ICU in 2002, after receiving her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Toronto, Canada, in 2001. Before assuming the post of Dean of Students at ICU in 2018, she was the Director of the Center for Gender Studies in 2009~2012 and 2017~2018. She has authored The Tea Ceremony and Woman's Empowerment in Modern Japan (2004), Jibun sagashi no imintachi, (Self Searching Migrants, 2009), Gurobaru jinzai towa dareka?(What Defines Global Human Resources ? coauthored, 2016).

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