International House Ann Arbor (IHAA) has served international students since 1888, reflecting a century-long mission to promote intercultural understanding and peace. Today, IHAA welcomes international and US students and scholars. (photo below, circa 1970’s)
When students from China first arrived at the University of Michigan, the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor provided a welcome environment. Students from diverse nations, cultures, and religions were soon living and learning under one roof. The organization went through four name changes between 1953 and 2018 (see names below) as it grew in various ways to make international students and scholars feel at home. Today, IHAA is a professional, nonprofit, educational organization providing below-market housing with a “home away from home” feel for international and US students and scholars as well as interns. In addition to serving residents and alumni, IHAA’s Global Engagement for Understanding program is open to the University of Michigan community, students and faculty of nearby educational institutions, and members of the local Ann Arbor community and surrounding area.
The first international students visited Michigan in the mid-1890s from China during a time of widespread anti-immigrant sentiment; the Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed by Congress a couple years earlier and the Supreme Court Case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, made segregation the law of the land. Even so, ecumenical cooperation slowly increased on campus throughout the early 1900s. By the 1930’s the University of Michigan had become one of the four national universities with the largest number of international students, culminating with the establishment of the International Center in 1938.
The period after WWII witnessed another influx of international students, which catalyzed the establishment the Protestant Foundation for International Students (PFIS) in 1953, which expanded opportunities for international students through the Hospitality Program where students were matched with local families. And in the spirit of promoting intercultural respect and creating a “home away from home” for international students, special attention was given to students from China, Korea, Japan, the Middle East, Africa, and other places that were experiencing profound political changes.
As international presence on campus increased, so did the need to develop the residential program. PFIS became the Ecumenical Campus Center (ECC) in 1961, through which the resident community expanded programs promoting counseling, study, and social activity. On April 30, 1982, fifty Washtenaw Country families hosted visiting scholars from the People’s Republic of China. As pointed out by The Ann Arbor News, families hosted these international students in order to “reach out to others from halfway around the world and make them neighbors.”
Even in 1982, the Ecumenical Campus Center (ECC), as it was known from the early 1950’s to early 2000’s, was reaching out to international students through the International Hospitality and Educational Program in order to pursue a mission of intercultural learning and peace. Cultural trips and educational programs were established throughout the 1980s. Some of these programs continue today.
The name ECIR, Ecumenical Center and International Residence, was first used in 2000 after merging the Ecumenical Campus Center (ECC) with Ecumenical Association for International Understanding. Most recently, the new name of International House Ann Arbor (IHAA) was established in 2018. Throughout these name changes, the mission has remained the same.