As the world marks the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, here are the stories of seven students who came to Tufts already equipped with a purpose and a plan to make a difference in this changing world.
'These Are Going To Be Very Different Times'
Before Sept. 11, Joshua Gleis says people questioned his undergraduate degree in Near Eastern Studies from Cornell. After all, when would he ever use that?
But on the day that the World Trade Center towers fell, near where Gleis was working in Lower Manhattan, the value of The Fletcher School student's undergraduate degree became dreadfully apparent. Gleis, who had studied Al Qaeda in college, knew that this was more than just a plane crash.
"We all knew it was a terrorist act. It's not a coincidence when two get hit," recalls Gleis, who volunteered at a nearby firehouse that day. As he witnessed his fellow New Yorkers come together in a time of crisis, the New Jersey native with a close family connection to Israel observed an all-too-familiar reaction to terror.
"It reminded me in many ways of when I was in Israel during suicide bombings, a similar reaction of not only revenge, but they made a mistake, they'll pay for it," says Gleis, who lost two high school classmates to such attacks. "These are going to be very different times now," he recalls thinking at the time.
Those events have driven Gleis, who is working toward a PhD in International Security Studies and Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization at Fletcher, to put himself in a position to try to broker peace in a world he sees as needlessly fractured.
"The skills that I'm learning at Fletcher are going to help me, God willing, be able to make policy recommendations that can hopefully make a real difference," says Gleis, who hopes to win public office one day, and has set his sights on the White House.
Currently, Gleis is focusing his dissertation on counterterrorism in the Middle East, particularly the study of insurgency and counterinsurgency efforts. When he first visited Fletcher as a prospective student, he sat in on a class called "The Role of Force" taught by counterinsurgency expert Richard Shultz, now his advisor. "The minute I came to Fletcher, I knew it was my first choice," he says.
This summer, Gleis was conducting research in Israel just as the conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas forces broke out.
"I had just been studying the Hezbollah tactics—they did it to a T," says Gleis. "I was interviewing a lot of these members of Israeli security services who ended up being on the news the next day... It was a very interesting time to be there."
In retrospect, the Fletcher student wishes that the world had paid more attention to the threat posed by Hezbollah and other terror groups.
"The Palestinian, the Lebanese and the Israeli people are the ones that are getting the brunt of the pain being caused by these organizations," he says. "By people supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, they end up hurting themselves more."
And according to Gleis, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East also hurts the rest of the world by taking focus away from other pressing catastrophes, such as the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"All of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and there's always the talk of 'never again,' but here we are 60 years after the Holocaust and there are genocides that have been taking place all over the world since," he says. "I want to make sure that those things don't take place any more, that more of a focus is put on Africa and an end to the Middle East crisis."
The opportunity to immerse himself in a continuing dialogue with students from varying backgrounds at Fletcher has only enhanced Gleis' education. He recalls inviting a Palestinian and an Iraqi student to Tufts' Hillel to share perspectives and a Sabbath meal.
"I wanted to be able to have a conversation with them and have an experience with them," says Gleis. "It doesn't mean that we always have to agree, but what Fletcher has given not just me, but I think all students at Fletcher and Tufts-wide, is the opportunity to be able to hash out these arguments."
The desire for peaceful dialogue, Gleis believes, stretches across religions and ethnicities. His goal is to help that desire become a reality.
"The vast majority of the people in the Middle East, whether they are Jewish, Arab, Christian or Muslim, don't really want to worry about these crises any more," he says. "What they want to worry about is making a living and living a happy life."
Profile written by Georgiana Cohen
All photos by Brian Loeb (A'06), except for Shenk photo by Joanie Tobin, Tufts University Photo
This story originally ran on Sept. 11, 2006.