This is the latest story in the Illinois Important Dates series, brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. Throughout the year, writers from newspapers throughout Illinois will mark milestones and holidays with articles noting their significance in the state.
Jordan Bruder is too young to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Still, she grew up believing the blame for the the 9/11 attacks was squarely put “on Muslim people,” an indictment some in her south central Illinois hometown continue to harbor about the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., that killed nearly 3,000 people.
That’s a belief she no longer holds.
Bruder, a sophomore studying business and political science at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, underwent a “a self-discovery,” as she terms it.
It began with talking with her father, Eric Bruder, a middle-school history teacher, and with doing her own research on 9/11.
“That’s made all the difference for me,” Bruder said. “Being a hateful person, that came from a place of ignorance. Now I feel I can go out into the world and be more tolerant.”
Bruder is part of a generation now entering college that has no direct memory of that day or weren’t yet born.
That’s presenting new challenges for professors, with new audiences to teach about one of the most defining moments in the history of the United States.
To older people who have “where-were-you” stories about 9/11, that gap can be jarring.
College students may know about the events and their significance, but they aren’t able to experience the same visceral impact of those who watched the horror from 18 years ago, said Christopher McDonald, a professor of political science at LLCC.
McDonald, who teaches an Early Start program for incoming high school seniors, has seen this moment coming.
“There’s a distance for these students,” he said. “They sense it’s really important, though.”
Kristen Chenoweth is the director of admissions at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, where she also teaches a freshman seminar class.
“I feel like these (students) are supposed to feel like (9/11) resonates, but it doesn’t,” Chenoweth said. “They know it was something serious, but it’s not really tied to their lives in any tangible way.”
Karen Contreras, a student at the University of Illinois in Springfield who originally is from Palatine, said even if today’s students don’t remember or have a personal story about 9/11, “we understand how momentous it was and continues to be.
“You don’t forget.”
up with 9/11
It’s compelling for Paige Calvert to talk to older relatives and teachers who can describe exactly where they were and what they were doing when the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfolded.
Calvert, of Pekin, a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, knows about the terrorist attacks only through conversations and from what she learned in school.
For a person born less than 8 months before 9/11, the events “seem like a faraway historical moment,” said Calvert, who first was introduced to the tragedy as a second-grader.
“It feels so close to many people,” she added. “It’s crazy that we’re the generation not even alive when this world-turning event happened, and now we’re ready to go off into the world.”
Like Calvert, many of her peers were introduced to the terrorist attack as elementary school students, although the introduction usually was from and through stories of first responders and other heroes, not by hearing the graphic details of the day.
But this generation of students also grew up with the repercussions of 9/11. That means when they fly, they get to the airport early to be screened by the Transportation Security Administration. A slew of names and terms – Osama bin Laden, “no fly lists,” Guantanamo Bay and the War on Terror – are part of their lexicon.
Emotion also has gripped them.
Faithe Metellus, a freshman at UIS from Northbrook, was born less than 2 weeks before 9/11. Earlier this year, she went to New York and saw where the World Trade Center once stood.
“I didn’t have a personal connection to it, but seeing the names and photos (at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum), that hit me.”
Going to the site “made me imagine what it was like for the people there. I feel empathy for them. I know people were traumatized.”
Her mother told her that on 9/11 her grandfather burst into the room, screaming, “We’re at war!” They turned on the TV just in time to see one of the towers collapse.
“(My mother) had to lay down because she was in so much shock,” Metellus said.
Calvert’s mother, a third-grade teacher, told her that the only thing she could think about that day was getting home.
“They didn’t fully comprehend what was going to happen next,” Calvert said.
Understanding the magnitude
Carolyn Peck, a UIS professor of psychology, weaves the 9/11 events into her graduate-level Death and Dying class. She encourages those who have no memory of the day to try to get some sense of the event, to understand its magnitude.
“That makes it more than a history lesson,” Peck said. “Seeing those interviews with survivors or relatives of those who died that day, it really forces students to pay attention.”
“I think (students) understand how the world changed after 9/11, just like I understand after the assassination of President (John F.) Kennedy how security changed around the president,” Chenoweth said.
“We look at what changed – our understanding of the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech, freedom of information – since 9/11. I think they know that it has changed, but they don’t know what it was before, so it’s hard for them to feel it.”
Zygfriend Kurzymski, a freshman at UIS from Park Ridge who was born just before 9/11, said he, too, grew up hearing derogatory terms leveled at people as terrorists. But even that understanding has changed as he has grown.
“We learned (in a high school psychology class) that no matter how unbiased you say you are, you do judge people based on what you learn from society,” said Kurzymski, a biology and pre-med major. “As I grew up, especially with the school shootings, it redefines what we perceive a terrorist as.
“That can make people even more scared today, because they don’t have a bias. These days (a terrorist) could be almost anybody.”
McDonald has seen that, too: In his Early Start classes, he asks students to describe a “terrorist.” There was a time that versions of bin Laden popped to mind, but last semester, students described a Caucasian school shooter, rather than a “Middle Eastern” figure.
“This was a huge shock to me,” McDonald said.
Today’s college students say even if they don’t have their own memories of 9/11, they have been affected by it.
“I do think about it,” Metellus said of the anniversary. “It’s important to remember all the lives taken.”
Bruder said one of the most important post-9/11 lessons she has learned is the need to continue to spread the truth about what happened.
“It’s important for us to keep the stories alive and fresh,” she said.
“History is bound to repeat itself, but I hope to God it doesn’t.”
Steven Spearie is a reporter for The State Journal-Register in Springfield. Reach him at 217-788-1524 or firstname.lastname@example.org