Fifteen years later, 9/11's impact remains on campus

Sunday, September 11, 2016 - 10:53pm

Fifteen years later, Sara Frost, School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior and New York native, remembers being picked up by her father just two hours after her first day of first grade began, on September 11, 2001.

Frost was in Manhattan on 9/11 when the al-Qaeda terrorist group coordinated a series of attacks by hijacking passenger airlines — two of which hit and later collapsed the World Trade Center North and South Towers in New York City.

Confused and unsure of what was happening, Frost and her father went to a local market on their way home.

“I have a stark memory of just rows and rows and rows of empty shelves, which was kind of crazy — it was only probably about three hours after the planes hit, they hit about 9:30 in the morning — and already the shelves were just bare,” Frost said. “In terms of imagery, that’s something that, just empty shelves, has stuck with me because no one knew what was going on.”

Two thousand nine hundred seventy-seven people died as a result of the attacks, including 18 alumni of the University of Michigan.

“Even those of us who are new here, recalling our experience of the national trauma in other parts of the country, now share in the collective bereavement of the University of Michigan family,” said then-University President Mary Sue Coleman at a 2002 ceremony honoring the victims.

Though the attacks happened when most current University undergraduates were in elementary school, the events still have a lasting impact — for some, personally, and for others, as part of broader shifts in public perception.

“That day has always stayed really fresh and really kind of visceral in my mind,” Frost said. “Even though I was so young, the images that one associates, it’s just really right there at the forefront of my brain, especially today.”

Beyond the personal, one of the bigger impacts of that day was on public opinion.

Following the attacks, University researchers from the Institute of Social Research found in their “How Americans Respond” survey that half of respondents were more trusting of the government in late 2001 than just one year earlier, helping create attitudes reflective of increased patriotism and community among fellow citizens as well.

“The HAR survey results paint a picture of Americans rallying around each other, concerned and even distrustful of some groups of foreigners,” the report says.

Communications Prof. Michael Traugott and Political Science Prof. Ted Brader, researchers of this study, could not be reached for comment on the report.

LSA junior Grant Strobl, chairman of the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, helped stake 2,977 flags on the Diag as part of the 9/11: Never Forget Project to remember the lives lost during the attacks. He said he thought it was important to continue to recognize the impact 9/11 had.

“The freshmen coming to the University of Michigan weren’t even in kindergarten when 9/11 happened, so it’s important that we remember and remind students how vulnerable our country was on that day and the fact that our way of life is still at risk,” Strobl said.

Vulnerability was another common facet of public opinion after 9/11 — the ISR survey also found that many Americans suffered a loss of personal safety and security. The survey report stated that about half of its respondents said their personal sense of safety and security was reduced “a great deal” or “a good amount.”

Frost recalled having to complete extensive safety drills in her New York school following the attacks, such as practicing getting underneath the desk or rushing to the school gym.

Arab and Muslim Americans have also been at a higher risk of hate crimes since the attacks, according to the FBI Hate Crimes Statistics reports, which note anti-Islamic hate crimes have increased from less than 2 percent in 2000 to more than 16 percent in 2014.

Evelyn Alsultany, director of Arab and Muslim American Studies, who teaches the course “Why Do They Hate Us: Perspectives on 9/11,” wrote in an email interview that political responses to the attacks — such as U.S. involvement in the Iraq War — led to an increase in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments following the attacks, which continue to exist to this day.

“Saying that the cause of terror is Islam is simplistic and inaccurate,” Alsultany wrote. “That is not to say that Islam has nothing to do with it when these are self proclaimed Muslims in the case of ISIS and al-Qaeda, but that it is not the origin or cause of terrorism. If it were, then 1.6 billion Muslims could be involved in terrorism, instead of a small fraction.”

In the past year, Muslim- and Arab-American students at the University have gathered to participate in a speak-out regarding Islamophobic remarks, and feeling targeted on campus. One recent example includes chalkings on the Diag last March stating remarks such as “Stop Islam,” prompting a statement from University President Mark Schlissel calling for a campus-wide need to respect all students.

“What Islamophobia reveals is an inability to understand that the 1.6 billion Muslims of the world are people like any other people — consisting of a range of experiences and characteristics,” Alsultany wrote.

History Lecturer Jonathan Marwil said.the attacks have a wide array of consequences, from health impacts for those who could have breathed in the debris or dust from the site, to changes in political and military relationships with different nations, to broader cultural implications in American music and literature.

“The consequences internationally have so far been huge, considerable,” Marwil said. “And there’s no evidence to suggest that those consequences are going to diminish in the foreseeable future.”

Despite having experienced the attacks firsthand, Frost said said she finds herself forgetting more and more of what happened on Sept. 11 as the years go by, though she hopes for more remembrance events to keep the significance prominent.

“Our national security was completely robbed from us, and I think that affects all citizens still,” Frost said.