Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, students and professors questioned U.S. foreign policy and their own beliefs. International politics suddenly seemed to be a question of life-and-death consequence, and issues of religious tolerance and biological threat increased concern for foreign events, professors and students said.

“The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center demonstrated in a tragically tangible way the importance of understanding world politics,” said Sarah Croco, a Graduate Student Instructor for an introductory world politics course. “I think the terrible shock of (Sept. 11) compelled some students to take more classes about world politics, specifically classes about conflict.”

In semesters following the attacks, enrollment doubled in the history department’s class titled “War in the Twentieth Century Middle East,” history Prof. Juan Cole said.

Enrollment has also increased in other classes of immediate interest, including the introductory international politics class and a political science class on the Arab-Israeli conflict, political science Prof. Mark Tessler said.

For students in Biology 100, an introductory biology class for non-majors, discussion of anthrax, small pox and other potential biological weapons had a greater impact on students following the attacks.

“They tried to discuss the issue without scaring us, and tried to make us realize that this is really very possible,” LSA senior Matt Ross said. “They told us we should be aware. Although it’s not probable, it is possible.”

Class subject matter has grown to include recent events. Some international politics class chose to add a lecture on terrorism, and history courses have added recent events to their studies.

“We always covered the Afghan wars and the rise of al-Qaida toward the end,” Cole said of his course on the history of war in the Middle East.

“But we have had to add a new chapter to those sagas, so there is more on the period since 1996 to the present. I suppose the addition of the War on Terror makes the class more oriented toward America’s wars in the Middle East, given that we also do the Gulf War and Lebanon,” he said.

But he also said not much actually changed because of Sept. 11.

“The facts of history and the forces that shaped them have not changed, and I always sought to convey those facts and forces to the students,” Cole said.

But students have become more aware of international issues, and have been forced to answer serious questions. When Croco’s international politics sections returned to class the day following the attacks, she was irked by the comments of some students who made statements seeming to criticize other students, she said.

“I had several students in my class who were of Indian or Middle-Eastern descent,” Croco said. “While these students had nothing to do with the attacks, other students in the class, needing to identify a culprit, would sometimes use overly-broad statements thereby implicating millions of people for the crimes of a few.

“Because of this, I tried hard to get students to not use generalizations and to understand why they were not appropriate,” Croco added.

But Croco said students have lost that initial momentum for learning about reasons for the attacks.

“I think a lot of my students have reverted back to thinking of world politics as something that happens ‘over there,’ keeping them out of harm’s way,” she said. “While students are very interested in what is going to happen next they seem to be less interested in understanding the much more complicated reasons of why (Sept. 11) happened in the first place.”

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