"Know one another, and you will love one another"
That is the by-line of the International House Program at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. My daughter & I are both alumnae of the program that began in 1946 with four students from France. It was a chance for respite from post-World War II Europe. Since 1964, each year there are 40 members of the program - 20 American students and 20 internationals. Each international student is from a different country and is roomed with an American student. The emphasis is now placed on the overall aspects of cultural understanding.
When I was in the House, we had an 18-year-old, his first time away from his family in Tehran, Iran. It was the fall of 1979. We had been together since late August and everyone was enjoying the camaraderie, campus activities, and at least some classes. We woke up that November morning to find graffiti scrawled across our front porch and other students outside with placards reading "foreigners go home." Ahmed was distraught, he couldn't reach his family by phone. Other House members were alarmed, would they be targeted just because they looked different? We were all disappointed that on this vibrant and usually inclusive campus there were people who could act like that. They likely didn't even know that there was anyone from Iran in the House, but were lashing out in fear.
So how did things turn out? We all assured Ahmed that we didn't blame him for what was happening thousands of miles away. House staff helped him get in touch with a relative in the U.S., and eventually, with his parents back home. For at least a few days, we made sure no international had to walk to class or go anywhere in town alone. Facilities sand blasted the porch pavers, and the picketers quickly lost interest. Things went back to normal, but none of us would ever be the same. We had a shared experience that made us closer, and stronger together.
Fast-forward to 2016. The House was celebrating 70 years of bringing people together! And a few of us managed to re-kindle some old friendships. Then, in 2018 the unthinkable happened. A tornado hit the campus during Spring Break just weeks before finals. It tore the roof off of the House women's hall. Other dorms & buildings also sustained heavy damage. But within in days, alternate accommodations for all of the House residents was found and those who could showed up even before that to help begin the clean-up. Alumni joined students, providing material assistance and emotional support. Across the years and across the miles, the bonds of love forged there are still strong.