A confused generation: Students’ experiences after attacks change perceptions of humanity

Kassondra Cloos
News Editor, The Pendulum

A large board in Moseley Center acted as a free speech board the week leading up to Sept. 11, where students, faculty and staff were encouraged to write their thoughts and memories relating to the tragedy. Photo by Kassondra Cloos.

The attacks on Sept. 11 left millions of people angry, hurt and in shock. But confusion was the dominant emotion for the current generation of college students, most of whom were barely preteens at the time.

Even 10 years later, confusion still permeates the memories of those who were children when they heard about the attacks. Parents’ and teachers’ unwillingness to harm their innocence was severely detrimental to their capability to understand the attacks, said sophomore Rachaele Andrews, who was 9 years old and living in Texas Sept. 11, 2001.

“Because no one wanted to sit down and tell those kids ‘this is what’s happening,’ it took away from what it could have meant for our generation,” she said. “Even though I was 9, I would have been more adult and glad someone treated me like one. But since I was treated like a child, I reacted like one. There are certain situations where it’s OK to treat children like adults, and that’s one of them.”

Andrews said she went to a small private school that was protective of its students, and everyone was sent home shortly after the attacks. Being so far away from New York City, D.C. and Shanksville, Penn., it was difficult for her to comprehend the events without a thorough, formal explanation.

“I couldn’t really grasp what terrorism was at the time,” she said. “I still don’t really understand all the effects 9/11 has had.”

Sophomore Brandon Lundie was also 9 years old on Sept. 11, but his family is from Connecticut and his father worked on the same block as the World Trade Center. His dad was running late for work the morning of the attacks and went straight to pick Lundie up from school instead of heading to work. The office building where he worked was later damaged by debris.

“Nothing had hit me. I didn’t realize what was happening,” he said. “But to see my dad cry, I thought, ‘Oh my God, something’s wrong.’ It really hit me when my dad cried. The memory has stuck with me.”

The stories people tell about where they were during the attacks and their connections with people who should have been in the affected areas for any number of reasons have become avenues for discussion about politics and have been framed in many different ways, said Tom Mould, professor of sociology and anthropology. Mould studies folklore and said stories about Sept. 11 have been framed in religious, cultural and political terms and have challenged how some people view the world.

“At the airport you may see security heavy around a Middle Eastern man, and you may feel OK about that. That’s something really interesting that has changed. We don’t have a problem with that now.” —Brandon Lundie, sophomore at Elon University

“I’ve noted that there’s sort of a typical process for how people respond,” he said. “The first is there’s a lock down, where everyone is on pins and needles and worried about direct impact. The second is kind of a finger pointing and blame game that happens, so the first stories that come out, they try to understand how this happened and why this happened. And that’s where you get a lot of really harmful legends about conspiracies about all of Islam or all Muslims or all Arabs, you paint with a broad stroke because people are really hurting and really struggling and falling back on small, petty stereotypes that they previously hadn’t thought much about.”

These stereotypes have been upsetting for both Lundie and Andrews, and the negative press that has permeated society has been a major contributing factor to prejudice and racism, both students said.

Lundie said he attended a very diverse school as a child and has personally seen attitudes toward Muslims and Arabs become more negative in recent years, which he has found distressing and anti-progressive.

A student expressed on the board in Moseley Center that Muslims are not inherently terrorists. Photo by Kassondra Cloos.

“At the airport you may see security heavy around a Middle Eastern man, and you may feel OK about that,” Lundie said. “That’s something really interesting that has changed. We don’t have a problem with that now.”

With the 10th anniversary of the attacks and the increased press coverage memorializing the dead and wounded, Lundie said he has found it hard to relive the day. But he thinks the memories are poorly focused, centering on the tragedy of thousands of deaths rather than the heroism of hundreds of first-responders who were able to save people through their perseverance, he said.

“They’re saying this is the safest weekend to be in the U.S.,” Lundie said. “Why not every weekend? If we step up security all the time, nothing would happen. A big step forward would be not to have the war on terrorism, but focus on progress against terrorism.”

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