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30 November 2007
Town & Gown:
Promoting World Peace by Bringing People Together

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - Town and Gown

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Jacksonville State University is home to one of the first peace and tolerance curriculum in the United States. Dr. James and Mrs. Myra Jones began the International House Program (IHP) September 1946, one year after the end of World War II and a year and three months after the start of the United Nations. They began with the idea to “promote world peace by bringing people together.”

This core idea of peace is incorporated into the IHP as a slogan: “Know one another, and you will love one another.” These simple, yet powerful, words can be seen on a plaque hanging in the International House upon entering; its meaning echoes through the halls.

By installing an international program within the university, Dr. Jones laid the foundation for the acceptance and respect of diversity among a community. Whereas many schools experienced turbulence in the 1960s during integration, the transition for students, staff and faculty at JSU was easier because the university began an international diversity initiative in 1946.

The program began as an exchange between students from Paris and Alabama and was run out of an office in Bibb Graves. Now, more than 60 years later, there are 42 students from South Africa to Japan to Iraq living in the International House.

Just as the IHP evolved and grew, so did its core idea. There are now students from every continent living in the House with Americans, promoting and experiencing the support, tolerance, diversity and exchange of cultures in a safe environment.

“We create peace and understanding here by modeling it,” says Dr. John Ketterer, current director of the IHP. Having a place where people from all over the world can come together to learn about other cultures and traditions, as well as teach their own, creates an atmosphere of peace and unity among many nations.

“I love the International House because we’re like a big family,” says Claire Xavier from Paris.

“I have 21 sisters and 20 brothers from many different countries, which makes living here really interesting. We talk about our different cultures, customs and food. I have especially learned a lot from students who are from countries outside of Europe.”

The Jones’ began the program with a primary purpose “to train and prepare young people from this and other countries for leadership in the interest of brotherhood and peace.” Through the joy of discovery and the cultivation of new relationships, the students in the International House comprise many parts of one international family.

“Inside the House they treat us as family,” says Christina Almanza, a 2001-2003 IHP participant. “They don’t let us be strangers. This is my second home…when I’m home, I miss here, and when I’m here, I miss home.”

In a 1964 letter to Dr. Houston Cole, a supporter of the IHP and president at JSU at the time of its inception, Mrs. Jones wrote, “Our faith in [these students] depends not so much upon what they are, but upon what they can become and what we would like to believe they will become.” Speaking of her and her husband’s work, she also wrote, “We have tried to hold fast to our faith in the possibility of building a better world with a little more of good will. It is doubtful that any of us have any real comprehension of the power inherent in simple human kindness.”

The creation of peace among nations—a large idea carried out by small acts of human kindness.

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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