On September 11, 2001, today’s undergraduate college students were enrolled in third through sixth grades. Most experienced the day’s events while in a classroom, the event portrayed to them through the decisions of teachers and school administrators.
In interviews with several college students around the country, it became clear that regardless of location, some teachers spent more time discussing the wreckage at Ground Zero than other terroristic events closer in proximity.
Because of this learning process, each student vividly remembers his or her exact place during that fateful day: September 11th.
For Ithaca College junior Perri Rumstein, 9/11 was one the most emotional days she had ever experienced. Her father, Steven Rumstein, was employed at MCI WorldCom’s office at 200 Park Avenue—a quarter mile away from the World Trade Center.
Mr. Rumstein’s building was evacuated and he walked six miles to the Queensboro Bridge in order to get home. His co-workers were missing for days in the mass chaos following the attack.
Rumstein was one of many children affected by the attacks in her area. She noted that a few of her classmates lost a parent or family member.
“Everyone felt less safe and it seemed like a bit of our freedom was stolen,” said Rumstein.
She was a fifth grade student at Otsego Elementary School in Dix Hills, N.Y. and now attributes her understanding of 9/11 to her parents and teachers.
“I watched my classroom drain out as anxious mothers came to get their children early…everyone was on edge, which was strange for the peaceful, Long Island suburbs,” said Rumstein.
Outside of the classroom, attacks on the World Trade Center also received more media coverage than the catastrophes in Washington D.C. and near Shanksville, Penn. Manhattan experienced an expansive amount of devastation in such a congested area—unlike the other attack sites.
The attack had destroyed all local broadcasting capabilities, leaving most Manhattanites to rely on network broadcast news for information. On September 12th 2001, The New York Times wrote that all networks were beginning “uninterrupted city-centric news coverage.”
Perhaps the dramatic images of New York City were more impactful. Or perhaps the country’s largest media market promoted the idea of the city’s attacks being most noteworthy.
On the west coast, sophomore Blake Crist was a fourth grader at an Broadview-Thomson Elementary School in Seattle, W.A. Due to the three-hour time difference, school administrators were able to plan a program for students.
“We all watched the news during class and talked about it during lunch with teachers,” said Crist.
Teachers explained the situation to students as simply as possible in an attempt to educate.
“We were really young and we couldn’t really understand exactly what was going on,” said Crist.
Seattle’s famous Space Needle, according to Crist, was a security concern in his city at the time, yet he remembers more coverage of the WTC.
Perhaps the emotional attachment stems from thinking of Manhattan as the greatest city in the world; New York City has been romanticized in American culture for centuries. The same cannot be said about low-key Washington D.C. or rural Pennsylvania.
Quinnipiac University senior, Katie Shofer, was a 6th grader at a Ruxton Country School, a private school in Owings Mills, M.D. in 2001.
Despite living in a Baltimore suburb near the Washington metro area, Shofer found that her teachers talked more about the Twin Towers than the Pentagon—a building less than an hour away.
“I remember finding out about the Pentagon from my parents,” said Shofer.
What else could possibly have caused the outpouring of interest in New York City in the form of both classroom and news airtime?
In a 2011 NPR interview, Sandro Galea, a professor and chair at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, documented a possible correlation between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and proximity.
“ …The evidence suggests that they are [related]. And increasingly, we are beginning to realize that…the symptoms that I described, what we call, let’s say, post-traumatic stress disorder, are not symptoms in isolation,” said Galea.
According to the U.S. Library of National Medicine, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a type of anxiety disorder that is triggered by seeing or experiencing a “traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.”
Essentially, Galea feels that maximum media exposure can contribute to empathy for New York City regardless of distance from the event. Hypothetically, someone in the Midwest who watched four days of uninterrupted Ground Zero coverage could experience the same range of emotions as someone living in Manhattan. The deluge of traumatic images and stories also stirred hearts across the country.
In a 2005 FAIR Magazine story, writer Norman Solomon expressed his reasoning behind the manipulation, “A lot of media coverage was glorifying people who died and/or showed courage on September 11…”
Creating victim profiles tugged at heartstrings and created a personal, human element to the coverage. Adult viewers could relate themselves or loved ones to victims, possibly triggering “what if” internal scenarios. There was no hiding from impressionable children.
Regardless of location, students overwhelmingly learned about the World Trade Center over any other disaster. To some, the attacks are this generation’s Pearl Harbor or Kennedy assassination. Each catastrophe has shaped the constant post-disaster state of Americans today.