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The Ruka

It’s not a commune. That’s the distinction I learn. It’s an intentional community. Everyone wears shoes. No one puts flowers in my hair and I was assured everyone bathes regularly. In fact as I walked into the Ruka Intentional Community nothing looked or even smelled outrageous. “What’s going on here?” I asked its six residents.

Turns out, a lot.

The Ruka is the first-ever Rhodes-sponsored intentional community—a thought experiment that took flight thanks to the turbo jet engine of Jami King ’11. In an enthusiastic whirlwind, she made petitions, found a loyal sponsor in Professor Bernadette McNary-Zak, wrote proposals, requested funding, became the ambassador of the entire endeavor to the school. The endeavor? To bring six different students under the same roof and ask them to become a family that loves and serves the earth and Memphis.

And the Rhodes Fellowship Program said, “Awesome. Let’s do it.”

Each year, six students will not just live right off campus in a house that acts as an eco-friendly dorm alternative. Each year, six students will live right off campus in a home that asks them to love the earth, love the community, and love each other. It’s a commitment to be challenged and a commitment to challenge others. Members encourage each other to take six minute showers, compost leftovers, hang sheets on clotheslines, ask tough questions, cook together, cook for professors, eat together, get mad at each other and then talk about it, run marathons, not drive when you can bike, volunteer at after-school programs, start community gardens, and organize free events for the Memphis community. Everyone is in the business of being in each other’s business and everyone is in the business of sustaining the earth and giving back to Memphis.

But more than anything, the Ruka offers its residents a way to re-think the bustle of college life, a way to live off the grid while still being plugged in.

At the Ruka, differences help keep the family together. Each resident’s skill set lends itself to working a unique muscle of the community. This year, Maggie Rector acts as scribe, blogging the story of the Ruka so far. Sarah Dockery acts as the Ruka’s community service organizer. Leigh DeVries is the environmentalist, Shelby Kramer the community chef, Catherine Appleton the treasurer. Jami King acts as ambassador, sending the Ruka off into the future by getting the word out about opportunities to join.

As the academic year winds down, students selected for next year’s Ruka residence are hard at work seeking a place to live. Students interested in applying for the 2012-2013 year can contact Jami King (

Helping direct the Ruka residents is Associate Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Bernadette McNary-Zak. Read about how she came to be involved with the Ruka on our Dean’s Blog.

A distinguishing element of a Rhodes Fellowship is the requirement that recipients actively reflect on their experience. As the academic year winds down, the Ruka residents are blogging about their time together and how different the future will be. Visit the Ruka Blog for their thoughts.

How does the Ruka serve the community? Check out the Rhodes Channel on to view videos about the Ruka’s love for each other, dedication to community service and lifestyle decisions that protect the environment.

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