January 12, 2011

Who We Are


ECIR is an intentional international intercultural interreligious living learning community.


The mission of ECIR is to be a welcoming community for students/scholars of all nationalities; to provide residential and educational programs fostering understanding and respect for all cultures and spiritual traditions; to promote lifelong friendships and leadership skills that contribute to harmony and peace between communities and nations around the world.


 Students and scholars come to The Circle from across America and around the
world. They want to succeed in their studies but they also want to connect. We
welcome them to both a residence and a community.

Inside the residence are apartments, gathering places, up-to-date media spaces, a
cafeteria that reminds travelers of home. There are places of quiet for study,
prayer, reflection.

Enter the community and you find more. Here there is talent, energy and
dedication. There is fear and prejudice–and fresh eyes. There is a common
humanity. Different ideas, different customs, different ways of seeing the world:
what blends them all, what brings out the humanity in each, is a culture of respect.

How do we bridge divides? Storytelling, lectures, shared meals, picnics, retreats:
we experiment as we go along, promoting friendships, developing leadership
skills. Programs take our guests into America and bring America inside their
door. Local schoolchildren enter to engage in cooperative projects, local citizens to
gain a perspective on world affairs, business leaders to make contacts. Drop-ins
are greeted warmly. Every week there is an open brown-bag with a brief talk, a
tour, and plenty of time for conversation. The spirit of The Circle is magnetic.

In our vision, those who live in The Circle leave as cultural navigators, as
peacemakers. The story of The Circle is carried aloft and seeds new Circles
around the world, each suited to its own time and place. We serve as both a
laboratory and a model. In a circle there is no “other.”
—(adopted March, 2014)

A History of International Respect

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 half way around the world and make them neighbors.” Even in 1982, ECIR (then the Ecumenical Campus Center) was reaching out to international students through the International Hospitality and Educational Program in order to pursue a mission of intercultural learning and peace.

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 in 1961, through which the resident community expanded programs promoting counseling, study, and social activity. Cultural trips and educational programs were established throughout the 1980s. Some of these programs, such as the weekly Global Village Dinner (established 1987) are continued today. The name ECIR was first used in 2000 after merging the Ecumenical Campus Center with Ecumenical Association for International Understanding. ECIR reflects a century-long effort to promote intercultural understanding and peace, a legacy and commitment it intends to carry into the future.