Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State to embrace its many cultures with hanging of national flags

January 13, 2016

When almost nothing seems familiar in a foreign land - not the food, language, dress or even the climate - there's a sense of comfort when someone eyes their native flag flying high.

The Center for Global Engagement hopes to bring that pride and recognition each day to the hundreds of international students studying at Indiana State University during the installation of a permanent national flags display from 3-4 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Student Recreation Center.

"It makes you feel like your presence has been acknowledged and it reassures you that you made the right choice," said Zachariah Mathew, associate director of the Center for Global Engagement, who first came to Indiana State as a student from India. "This is a symbolic gesture that shows international students that ISU is welcoming. Being inclusive is the key because it is what we stand for and it represents our mission, as a center and as a university."

The event, which is being funded by the Center for Global Engagement and the Division of Student Affairs, will include a simple ceremony where a group of Indiana State students from various cultures will hang the national flags of nearly 80 countries that have had student representation at the university, plus the U.S. and Sycamore flags, on the railing around the walking and jogging track. As the flags are being placed, the School of Music's brass quintet will play an ensemble written by Grammy Award-winning composer Libby Larsen.

"To my mind, when international students see their flags on campus it means that they are welcome at Indiana State University and they feel acknowledged by the ISU community," said Polina Kaniuka, a teaching English as a second language/language studies major from Ukraine and a graduate assistant at the Center for Global Engagement.

The ceremony will include remarks from Indiana State President Dan Bradley, Mike Licari, provost vice president for academic affairs, Brooks Moore, associate dean for student engagement, student activities and organizations, Chris McGrew, director of the Center for Global Engagement, Vernon Cheeks, Student Government Association president, and Lola Akinlaja, a Nigerian native and December 2015 Indiana State graduate.

"When Student Affairs was approached by the Center for Global Engagement about co-sponsoring the flag display, we jumped at the opportunity to collaborate on this important initiative," said Willie Banks, vice president for student affairs. "We want all of our students to feel connected to Indiana State and displaying the flags of our international students is just one way to demonstrate the institution's commitment to including our international students in the Sycamore family. We are thrilled that the rec center will be hosting the flags on display and as one of the most used facilities on campus, we know that a large part of our student body will get to see these beautiful flags on a daily basis."

The flag display also will add to the visual appeal of the rec center, a popular place for both domestic and international students, said John Lentz, campus recreation director. Lentz offered to make the Rec Center home to the flag display after he proposed the idea during a discussion about helping students embrace diversity at a student affairs retreat at the start of the academic year.

"We want to show students that we're all Sycamores on this campus, no matter where we come from," he said. "We want everyone to feel welcome, and it will also help American students get a better grasp of what it means to have a global perspective and show them that Indiana State embraces the world."

The first taste of the Indiana State experience for international students begins at the Center for Global Engagement, but each department and office on campus plays a part in embracing them as Sycamores.

"The teamwork here and with other offices on campus help make international students feel comfortable trying new things and the flags in the Rec Center say there's an element of diverse perspectives at Indiana State," said McGrew. "It's a symbolic representation, in a very prominent place on campus, to show people that we are a diverse place."

Mathew hopes to someday have all countries recognized by the United Nations represented on the display, as the Center for Global Engagement strives to embrace all cultures that have enriched the campus community.

"This is something I have wanted to do since I came here in 2011 because all of the flags that will be displayed represent these countries coming together under one roof in the U.S.," he said. "Every time international students look in, they'll see their flag there as a symbolic gesture that shows them they are valued here and be able to say, ‘Yes, that's my country. I'm from there and my presence has been acknowledged.'"

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or