On the east end of the UA campus where University Boulevard meets Fraternity Row, there once stood a beautiful two-story brick house: the Rotary House. It is now a mere memory. The demolition crew that came on Feb. 4, 2010 cleared away every single piece of brick that was once the Rotary House, a building that was once a beacon of hope for cross-cultural understanding, goodwill and peace in the world.
I was first introduced to the Rotary International Student Center, or the Rotary House, on my arrival from my homeland of Sri Lanka in 1986. Back then, as an international undergraduate far away from his homeland, I immediately warmed up to the familiar name of Rotary International written on the wall. I also took great delight that a majority of Rotary House residents were international students and thereby shared a certain kinship with me.
The Rotary House was not just a dorm to those who chose to live there. It was home to 12 students representing 12 different nations. We were a family of different social and cultural backgrounds that lived together in harmony under one roof. It was a fun place where a multitude of customs, foods, political ideologies and religions coexisted.
Established on Sept. 9, 1973, the Rotary House was a project undertaken by the Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa. Following its goal of helping to build understanding among people of the world, the Rotary House was one of the local Rotary chapter’s first major service projects. This ambitious project entailed remodeling and furnishing a former fraternity house to serve as the focal point for UA’s international students. Some called this project the “little United Nations,” and at the time it was hailed as one of the first examples of a local Rotary club and a major U.S. university joining forces on an international project.
In the fall of 2008, a new chapter was written in the history of the Rotary House, with a physical move to a new and larger building on the University of Alabama campus. Fire code restrictions, small rooms, and the need for extensive renovation led to Rotary’s agreement with the UA administration to move RISC to a new, larger building just north of Bryant Hall. Floor space was almost doubled, with more dorm rooms capable of accommodating nearly three times the residents. In a first for the Rotary House’s living arrangements, RISC now has co-ed living arrangements in the new house.
It is very encouraging that the Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa is continuing its strong commitment to international understanding, friendship and peace into this millennium. Its continued support of the “new” Rotary House speaks volumes about the organization and its members. However, from a personal standpoint, I have to say that the “new” Rotary International Student Center is not the same as the Rotary House that I so fondly remember. I honestly doubt there will ever be anything like our old Rotary House again
Mo Qamarudeen is a graduate of the University of Alabama’s College of Arts and Sciences and College of Commerce & Business Administration.