International House helps students through times of crisis by creating an atmosphere of inquiry, understanding, and respect in a volatile world. Learn more about International House and its programs at International House

International House residents from around the world often dress in traditional garb when attending the Celebration and Awards Gala. The annual event is the largest fundraiser of the year.








International House in Challenging Times

Panel members discuss Nigeria's Christian and Muslim cultures. From left: Melis Senerdem, a journalism graduate student from Turkey, Zahra Makoui, an electrical engineering and computer science student who was raised in Iran; Ednah Chinaniso Kunjeku, a Fulbright Scholar from Zimbabwe; and Roshan Gujar, an anthropology and African-American studies student from the US.


Times of global crisis are always stressful for International House residents. They endure periods of upheaval away from their homes and families, and their families share in the anxiety, sometimes calling our offices to ask after their children's safety at Berkeley.

That's why I-House is committed to providing physical safety through building upgrades and a wide variety of security measures as well as emotional safety by promoting harmony over hatred, interaction instead of fear, and discourse instead of anger.

These ideals were highlighted at an I-House event held in March. The PBS news magazine Frontline: World partnered with I-House for a special screening of their documentary The Road North: A Look At Nigeria, followed by a resident panel and town meeting. The documentary explored Nigeria's Christian and Muslim cultures, whose ongoing conflicts boiled over last year during the Miss World Pageant. At the heart of the story was Amina Lawal, a Muslim woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, and the global debate about her fate.

The panel consisted of Roshan Gujar, an undergraduate in Anthropology and African-American studies from the US; Ednah Chinaniso Kunjeku, a Fulbright Scholar on sabbatical from her post as chair of the Biological Sciences department at the University of Zimbabwe; Zahra Makoui, an undergraduate Electrical Engineering and Computer Science student who was raised all over the world, but predominantly in Iran; and Melis Senerdem, a Turkish graduate student in the School of Journalism. Rachel Raney, a PBS documentary production manager, moderated the discussion.

By providing a respectful forum to air the volatile issues of religion, politics, and women's rights, the program enabled the residents to discuss difficult topics head-on without fear of retaliation.

Roshan said her first impression was that the stoning sentence was cruel and unfair. She also noted that many of Nigeria's poor use strong religious convictions as a "coping mechanism" for dealing with poverty, and that this was consistent with her research in Malawi.

Melis gave a reporter's perspective, saying that it's hard for journalists to explore a complex religious and social issue because much of the surrounding context has to be left out. She noted that Turkey is 98% Muslim, but has a secular legal system, and was concerned that, while the Lawal case attracted international attention, a riot which killed several hundred people received much less press.

Zahra explained aspects of Islamic law as it was originally intended and as it is practiced today in different parts of the world. She expressed her concerns that many of the Islamic laws could be stereotyped as barbaric even though they were originally intended to protect the weak and the poor. Zahra explained that the stoning rules of Islam relating to adultery originally prevented women from being raped and made one-time properties of men, and prevented prostitution. Zahra noted that Ms. Lawal was from a very small, poor community in which women who commit adultery are invariably ostracized because they bring shame to the elders.

Finally, Ednah, who rose from a family of subsistence farmers in Zimbabwe, pointed out that in colonized Africa, women do not have a choice of religion, they are heavily discriminated against for being both Black and female, and the power structure around them is heavily weighted in favor of men. She could, she said, relate directly to Ms. Lawal from these three issues.

The program continued with questions from the audience and further discussion on women's issues worldwide.

This was the second in a series of documentary screenings and town meetings created in partnership with Frontline: World. We look forward to future events as we work together to help students through times of crisis by creating an atmosphere of inquiry, understanding, and respect in a volatile world.

Another avenue of discussion is provided by the Debate Club which was established this year by two residents, Ziad Nekat (Lebanon) and Daniel Benoliel (Israel). They share a commitment to discussing difficult and even polarizing issues in a civilized way. This active club regularly attracts over one hundred residents for debates and has addresses such challenging topics as:
· The Iraqi Brief: An Indispensable Preventative Strike or Just Another Oil War?
· The Kashmiri Conflict: Can Another War Be Prevented?
· Israel and the Arab Conflict: Can True Peace Ever Be Achieved?
· The European Union: An Outdated Country Club or a Growing Power?

With proactive programs such as these, I-House prides itself on providing broad-based support both for engaging in the difficult dialogues that international crises produce and for finding the understanding and common ground that is so central to our mission. I-House further supports residents in coping with challenging times by providing counseling services, both in-house and through the UC Berkeley Tang Center. In addition, campus events address the broader student community and speak to the stressors that difficult times yield.

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© 2003 International House