Rutgers University Senior Danielle Josephs has been the driving force behind the Middle East Coexistance Project.
Danielle Josephs went to college to become a star. And she has. But not in the way she intended.
Josephs, now a senior at Douglass College of Rutgers University, was named one of Glamour Magazine's Top 10 College Women and, in late September, her work was featured on mtvU, MTV’s 24-hour college network.
It all started with a pair of dancing tights at age two.
After studying ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, Irish dancing and Latin ballroom dancing since childhood, Josephs decided to pursue her dream of a career in dance. She applied early decision to the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and was accepted.
It seemed the dream of this Teaneck, N.J., native would be fulfilled. However, like with many aspiring college students, finances threatened to cut that dream short.
"I tried for every scholarship imaginable, including entering myself into the 2003 New Jersey Junior Miss pageant, which I happened to win," Josephs said. "But at the end of the day my parents sat me down and said, ‘Danielle, if you want to go to graduate school NYU isn’t feasible for us.’"
Having focused on NYU, Josephs was forced to turn to her safety school and the only other school she had applied to, Douglass College at Rutgers University, where she continued to pursue a degree in dance. That would change soon into her freshman year.
When the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) held its annual rally at Rutgers during the fall of her freshman year, Josephs realized a dance degree was not what she wanted. "I would get frisked on my way to class at a mock-Israeli check point, which made me uncomfortable and helped me figure out I wanted to work in the area of the Middle East and help remedy this situation," she said.
In response to PSM, Rutgers Hillel held Israel Inspires Weekend, a multi-day, pro-Israel event culminating with a rally which attracted over 4,000 supporters. Josephs immediately involved herself in the planning and execution of the event, sitting on the Executive Committee as chair of the media committee and pre-rally committee.
Following Israel Inspires, Joseph, still a freshman, continued her involvement in Rutgers Hillel, assuming the position of vice president of religious life. The next year, Josephs became the Israel director for Rutgers Hillel and was responsible for several successful programs, including the Israeli Culture Festival which was adapted by AIPAC into its iFest initiative. Her leadership was recognized further when she was elected to the international Board of Directors of Hillel.
Though proud of her accomplishments, Josephs felt as though her impact was not far-reaching enough.
"I was doing a lot of meaningful work for the Jewish community, but there was still a significant amount of tension between the Jewish and Muslim communities on campus," she said. "I realized I needed to work on improving this relationship."
She developed the Middle East Coexistence Project to bridge the gap between Jewish and Arab students at Rutgers. She placed special emphasis on the role of women in international conflict negotiation.
Once again, despite success, Josephs believed she was not doing as much as she could. "The reality is, one dialogue session per year won’t make a heck of a lot of difference," she said. "It’s ineffective because there is no reinforcement, no context."
She developed a plan to create an all-inclusive, living-learning experience in which Jewish and Arab women would live together to become personal ambassadors to their own communities, spreading the values of peace and coexistence. This too became a reality, with the creation of the Middle East Coexistence House as part of the Global Village on the Douglass Campus. The inaugural group of residents consists of 11 women, including Josephs, now a senior.
"I am excited, because it has been institutionalized as part of Douglass," she said. "I hope it evolves and grows on campus."
Is Josephs unhappy that a lack of financial aid forced her to give up her first choice of universities and hang up her dancing shoes? "Everything works out for a reason," she says. "Rutgers turned out to be the best experience and if I had to do it all over again, I would simply apply there and call it a day."
Unable to turn back time, Joseph recommends to those currently looking at or applying to college to not put all their eggs in one basket, as she did. Instead, get advice from as many people as possible. "I firmly believe you get out of college what you put into it," she said. "In the end, the institution doesn’t matter. If a student is motivated and wants to get the most out of college, he or she will."
In May Josephs will graduate with degrees in political science and Middle Eastern studies. With dreams of becoming a professional dancer behind her, she hopes to make a career in Middle Eastern policy making and negotiation at the U.S. State Department.