Helping Undergraduate Students Grasp the Power of September 11th

Curator's Note

For each generation, there is a pivotal event which defines a before and an after.  For millions of Millennials, September 11 was such a historical moment.  In a multitude of ways, that September morning synthesized a disconnected set of shifts that created the conditions for 9/11 to occur.  But it also set the public and foreign policy worldwide for the next 18 years and beyond.

However, as we attempt to comprehend 9/11’s global impact, today’s undergraduate students approach the topic from an inherent disadvantage.  When the towers fell in New York, many of them were infants.  Some were not yet even born.

In the featured video, we see young people grappling with the complexity inherent in September 11’s events and how it opened the perspective of many Americans in a way they had never before experienced.  This video features students, just like them, who are wrestling with an unprecedented and unforeseen loss of human life, attempting to come to terms with a challenge to our system of government and way of life.

Sharing video like these with students can begin to shed important light into how our perspective changed in the before/after of 9/11.  In a complex world where fake news pops up endlessly, where truth must defend itself against vicious attacks, where trolling and hostility threaten to degrade all political debate and discussion, 9/11 remains important.  In our promises to “Never Forget” we must continue telling the story of September 11.  Seeking new ways to make this focal event tangible equips students with the ability to comprehend today’s political and media landscape.

While another incident will define the post-Millennial generation, that event will be founded on the world created by September 11.  Without understanding 9/11, students’ ability to interpret their generational event will be hampered and inaccurate.  9/11 will be the “before” for our students; using the media tools at our fingertips, we need to continue to illustrate for students how that fateful September day continues to shape all facets of our global village. 


Thank you for sharing the perspective of the generational differences! It is so important and challening to engage today's students in events that they have no personal memory of. I used to teach a unit on 9/11 in my 100-level film adaptation class. We would visit the memorial at Boston Logan Airport where two of the flights originated. Students had their own personal memories of the day. Their behavior at the memorial (which no one had ever visited even though many frew up in the NE region) was one of deep personal engagement. They wook their time walking the path and studying the various aspects of the memorial. Post-visit, they would apply film adaptation techniques to their personal memories and turn them into a classical hollywood narrative short.

Eventually, my students became too young to remember; eventually they were born after 9/11/01. Visiting the memorial with students now is very different. More background context needs to be given; the personal connection students used to bring to the subject matter is no longer present; students are more likely to interact with the memorial  in the way they interact with other historical events--removed from it, feeling as though it does not impact their lives. Many now only give a quick glance and walk through the memorial--they opt to wait at the entrance/exit to the memorial site, with their eyes glued to their phones.

Hi Monika,

I love the idea of taking students to the memorials as a way of opening up discussion about the events, even if they don't take us up on it.  I've struggled a lot with finding a great way of sharing the details and the context but the emotion that day holds.  I suppose it is the case with lots of these events - I don't see the Kennedy assassination the same way my parents do, etc.


Thank you for selecting this video to discuss. I see this as critically important work as an educator, as a media professional, and as an informed citizen. With the benefit of hindsight, we can better understand the precipitating events that led to 9/11. With greater media literacy, we can parse the messages being sent to us in the new landscape. With a better grasp of the history of mass mediated communication, we can understand 2001 as a moment in time and articulate how the world "before" differs from the world "after."

It is interesting listening to this video and hearing the different ways that 9/11 impacted people's lives. Personally, I was 21 when it happened, and I was at work at a Starbucks that morning. I remember watching the television in our store and the amount of confusion and all of the rumors and speculation that started going around. What many of the accounts of 9/11 forget is that the World Trade Center was not the only site attacked. There was the Pentagon and Flight 93 as well. At the time, though, everyone wondered if there were other planes as well. What other city might be hit next? Was this just the beginning? The fear and anxiety of the moment and the days that followed is something that I will not likely forget. It sticks with you. That is something that is hard to communicate in a historical re-telling of the events. In a way, I can understand why those born after the attacks don't feel its pressing sense of importance: they missed that emotinal connection to the events that just can't be communicated to someone who didn't live through it. I wonder, through, does that make them more objective to the event and its historical legacy or does it make them more removed and so that it appears irrelevant to them? Which is the better stance when dealing with its cultural, social, and historical legacy?

Hi Nathanael,

You are certainly right - we were so worried about a lot that day.  I remember people rushing out to get gas that evening with this huge fear there would be a shortage.  It is amazing how rich my memories still are of that day and those that followed.


Hi Tanya,

I love this video and expanding the discussion beyond just "what happened" or "what happened to us" as individuals.  It really illustrates for students the spread of the impact and the unique way it touched us all and the ways in which we can expand our perspective and our empathy for others.


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