Five years later, U class discusses terrorist attacks

Elena Rozwadowski

On Sept. 11, 2001, communication studies professor Edward Schiappa listened to the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in his car on his way to class.

When he got to the lecture hall, he said he walked to the chalkboard and wrote: “September 11, 2001.” Afterward, he turned to his class and said, “This is a day you’re never going to forget.” Lecture was canceled.

Five years later, Schiappa said he sometimes discusses 9/11 in his classes to help his students understand it, especially in the current political environment.

“Making sense of 9/11 has become pretty important,” he said.

Students now have a chance to talk about 9/11 two days a week for an entire semester in a new class offered by the American studies department called “The United States since September 11.”

But the discussion reaches beyond one lecture hall. Students and staff across campus are finding ways to talk about the issues surrounding that day.

The American studies class will cover everything from policy to history and look at some of the possible reasons behind the events of the past five years, said the class instructor, professor Roderick Ferguson.

“We had observed, just as onlookers, the ways in which Sept. 11 caused a kind of historical shift in the nation,” he said. “We wanted to take a count of the ways in which the U.S. had changed.”

Throughout the semester, students will study past wars to determine the origin of some of the domestic and foreign policy changes from the past five years, Ferguson said.

“The changes themselves have a history beyond Sept. 11,” he said. “There are ideas like the humanitarian war or the citizen soldier, who’s there as part of a civic duty to defend the nation and to protect the national ideals.”

Ferguson said one of the main points of the class is that there are many layers contributing to peoples’ views of 9/11. He compared those layers to a Russian nesting doll, moving from the present into the past.

“If we imagine Sept. 11 as the big doll, one of the dolls in that doll is the Cold War,” Ferguson said. “If you take the top off of that doll, you find World War II.”

He said part of the aim of the course is to dissect the other dolls that led to 9/11.

Professor Schiappa said it is important to also talk about the hidden meanings attached to 9/11.

“When we say 9/11, what do we mean?” Schiappa said. “For one person, it might mean Bush incompetence; for another person, it might mean Pearl Harbor all over again. Don’t let people just sloganize.”

Because 9/11 is so different to so many people, Ferguson said department faculty members put a lot of thought into the syllabus when drafting the class and discussed the sensitivity of the subject matter.

Enrollment was so high the department had to keep raising the student limit, finally capping it at 140 or 145, Ferguson said.

Enthusiasm after registration stayed with students through the summer, Ferguson said, as students have been eager to answer even rhetorical questions in class.

“There haven’t been a whole lot of forums for students to talk about this stuff,” he said. “I think it’s meeting a need.”

Some students feel it is important to discuss the events of 9/11 because of its place in history, like finance senior Tony Richter, president of the University’s Veteran Transition Center’s Comfort 4 Courage program.

“The tragic events of that day had a profound impact on the culture and fabric of our nation,” Richter said.

While he said it’s important to talk about any pivotal event like 9/11, it’s not necessary to have a class to open up the conversation.

He said students can also benefit from a constructive dialogue “about what happened and how it has changed us and how we can make ourselves a better country as a result.”

U.S. Marine Corps veteran and civil engineering junior John Schmidt said he thinks it is important for students to have an understanding of any event that shapes the history of the country.

“It puts the citizens in perspective of what we’re facing in the world,” Schmidt said. The class, he said, is a good idea because it allows citizens to gain an understanding of what is going on around us.

“More important than studying that day and what happened on that day is to look into how to stop that from happening in the future,” he said. “To be more proactive than reactive would be the most important lesson.”