Annual EPIIC symposium to kickoff Wednesday evening

The 29th Annual Norris and Margery Bendetson Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) International Symposium, which is sponsored by the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), will officially kickoff this week.

This year’s symposium, entitled “The Future of the Middle East and North Africa”, will include four days of discussion on political and cultural topics relevant to those regions, a film screening and a cultural evening, according to IGL Founding Director Sherman Teichman. He said that attendees will include EPIIC participants, 54 international students from around the world and 35 midshipmen and cadets from U.S. military academies, as well as other Tufts students and faculty.

The symposium will begin with a keynote address from Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and will feature speakers from foreign governments and organizations ranging from the Iraqi Parliament to the World Bank, Teichman said.

EPIIC is an IGL-run program that educates students on a different topic each year. Students partake in a research colloquium in the fall which culminates in the spring symposium, according to Teichman.

“EPIIC was started … in the middle of a very heated and emotional atmosphere in the United States,” he said. “Diplomatic rules had been broken. Embassies were seized. American diplomats had been seized. I began [EPIIC] because I wanted to have an informed discourse on the difference between political violence and terrorism, which was not taking place.”

According to Teichman, the IGL selected Middle East and North Africa as its focus this year due to the significant changes that are ongoing in the region.

“It is the third anniversary of the Arab Spring,” he said. “When I was planning this, which was several years ago, we were watching the evolution of the Arab Spring, and we knew that there was going to be a profound shift in relationships with the region. Regimes were going to fall. There was going to be a period of tremendous turmoil. We didn’t know how complex this was going to be, but we knew it was certainly going to be intense.”

EPIIC participant Samuel Rock explained that the symposium focuses on potential future changes in the region. 

“We try and be prescient and look ahead, and see not just what is happening now, but what will happen in the next few years,” Rock, a senior, said.

Student contributions to EPIIC were aided by winter break research opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa, according to EPIIC participant Eloise Harnett

“There are only so many things that you can discuss in a year, but through individual research projects, you can pursue your area of interest,” Harnett, a sophomore, said. 

Harnett explained that her studies in Palestine gave her an opportunity to meet Professor Mohammed S. Dajani. Dajani, the founder and executive director of Wasatia, a moderate Islamic movement in Palestine, will speak at the during this year’s symposium.

“It was so interesting to hear his perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Hartnett said. “I am excited to see him in a formal academic setting.”

The symposium is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York as part of a two-year grant to the IGL and the Taiwan Foundation, in collaboration with the Middle East and North Africa divisions of the International Crisis Group and World Bank, Teichman said.

He explained that students play a major role in the organization of each year’s symposium.

“There is no way that this could happen on such a scale without such a brilliantly calibrated student effort,” Teichman said. “It takes a tremendous amount of networking. We have developed a tremendous alliance of friends and supporters. I am able to delegate and rely upon a vast array of allies.”

Harnett said that she hopes the symposium will reach a large part of the Tufts community. 

“Everyone can find some event in the symposium that will interest them and I hope they step out of their comfort zone,” Harnett said. “I hope that this symposium sparks interest in people that know nothing about the Middle East or were not particularly interested in it before. Regardless of whether you are interested in the international relations piece, there are cultural aspects that make it so interesting.”