Reflecting on 9/11 on the 20th anniversary
September 10, 2021
Dear Campus Community,
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was walking to my building at Baylor University to teach a Tuesday morning undergraduate accounting class when a colleague told me that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. My initial thought was, how could a plane not see the Twin Towers? The notion that terrorists were attacking New York City was unimaginable.
At Furman, it was the first day of class, the beginning of the college experience for our first-year students. Like most people elsewhere, they huddled around TVs and tried to fathom the enormity of loss and the possibility of more attacks. I’m sure you remember where you were when you heard the news.
Nearly 3,000 lives were lost that day in New York, at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. Twenty years later, America still feels the pain of 9/11, not only the extraordinary loss of life and the permanent physical scars inflicted on thousands of people, but the damage to our collective psyche. Children lost parents, parents lost children, men and women lost partners.
Photos of the smoke billowing from the Twin Towers and a section of the Pentagon crushed and burning are seared into our memories. Fear, anger and sadness enveloped the country. Our sense of security shifted. For our students born after 9/11, they have only known TSA checkpoints, memorials to first responders, and, until 10 days ago, a 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The actions of 9/11 represent the best and worst of humanity. On one hand, when the planes crashed, hundreds of people risked their own safety and heroically ran toward the wreckage. Over the following weeks and months, we saw an outpouring of support for the families of 9/11 victims and for America’s healing. On the other hand, a small group of radicals backed by a terrorist organization inflicted irreparable harm on our nation.
Another unmistakable and harmful consequence of 9/11 was anti-Muslim discrimination. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pew Research Center, hate crimes against Muslims rose from 12 in 2000 to 93 in 2001. In 2016, that number was 127. Pew also said that these incidents are likely underreported. In March, the United Nations said “fear of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions.”
Higher education also changed as a result of 9/11. Colleges and universities are more than just the regional institutions they once were. In many ways, 9/11 made the world smaller. As communities of learning and understanding, it is important that we listen to and welcome people unlike ourselves. We can condemn terrorism and the radicalism that leads to violence, whatever creed terrorists purport to represent. We can also, as we say in our values statement, promote racial and ethnic diversity, advocate respect for all people and actively welcome perspectives from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs.
At 8:46 a.m. tomorrow, the bell tower will ring out in memory of the lives lost 20 years ago. And you can read what the date means to some in the Furman Family on our news site. I encourage each of us to take a moment to reflect on what the historic events of 2001 means to us personally.