While International House at UC Berkeley shares a vast 90-year history, Joseph “Joe” Lurie arguably knows it the best. As its third executive director, Lurie led I-House for nearly 20 years from 1988-2007. Every room in the building has a story, even down to the details of the ceiling, and, given his extensive research of the residence, Lurie can tell you all about them.
A native New Yorker, Lurie dedicated his career to cross-cultural understanding. He was a member of the Peace Corps in Kenya in the late 1960s which sparked his interest in cross-cultural learning, something that would ultimately be conveyed through his leadership at I-House.
After taking over from his predecessor Sheridan “Sherry” Warrick (IH 1961-1987), I-House Berkeley’s second executive director, Lurie interviewed staff and read through extensive oral history transcripts from the first executive director, Alan Blaisdell (IH 1930-1961), and International House founder Harry Edmonds on the history of the House to understand its origins and what it meant to those fortunate enough to live there.
“When I read [the oral histories] and listened to the staff here at I-House, I became aware of the fact that there was an extraordinary history about international house that had been largely forgotten,” he said. As a result, Lurie made it his mission to share the I-House experience with the world.
During his tenure, he helped raise funds to produce a PBS documentary about the intercultural residence, which highlighted the living experience among students as well as their cross-cultural exchanges which Lurie states “is still a source of inspiration for many people.”
Many notable alumni and honorees have passed through the doors of I-House, with Lurie having the great fortune of meeting most of them, ranging from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to the Crown Prince of Norway and even two Nobel Laureates.
Throughout his tenure, Lurie witnessed the transformation of I-House from the residents to the building, and even himself. He credits his wife, Donna, who was an I-House resident in the 1960s, for encouraging him to apply for the executive director role.
“My wife and I had the great pleasure and privilege of welcoming thousands of students from around the world who came to call I-House home,” he stated when reminiscing about his time at the residence. “We saw stereotype after stereotype and prejudice upon prejudice crumble because of simple human acts of kindness,” he said, adding that through this experience, he and Donna “became students ourselves once again.”
Since leaving I-House, Lurie has gone on to write various books on the history of I-House and his cross-cultural learning experiences with his most recent being “Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures.” He also conducts tours of I-House for alumni and visitors during its annual Global Homecoming celebration.
Of his many adventures around the world, Lurie has become well acquainted with various proverbs that tell lessons of life and the human bond. When asked about major events of 2020 ranging from the pandemic to uprisings over racial injustice, Lurie referenced the West African proverb “the stranger sees only what he or she knows.”
“You know, you can have all of the conversations you want about ethnic differences, racial differences, [and] injustice,” he said when discussing the importance of places like I-House. For him, bias and misunderstanding “doesn’t stop until people get to know each other as human beings,” adding that “you cannot open the mind until you touch the heart.”
Lurie’s two decades worth of I-House memories have been compiled into a four-part oral history series ranging from the origins of the House to discussions of its future in a post-pandemic world. The series is available to watch on the I-House YouTube channel.
Premiered February 5, 2021 WATCH NOW
-Breaking Stereotypes and Resident Transformations: I-House at its Best
-Reflecting on how a Fax Machine Brought the First News of Tiananmen Square to I-House
-Welcoming/Honoring Famous Alumni and Other Recognized World-Renowned Figures
Premieres February 12, 2021
Premieres February 19, 2021
Premieres February 26, 2021
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Joe Lurie, Chan’Cellore Makanjuola, and Tim Lynch for collaborating on this video. The interview is part of a series of “spotlights” where alumni and former executive directors are featured for an oral history discussion about their time at I-House. While I-House is temporarily closed for the 2020-2021 academic year, the oral history discussions are a way to help keep the alumni community connected virtually. If you would like to provide an interview or volunteer to help, please contact Laurie Ferris at email@example.com.