Sept. 11 Affected U.S. College Students

(U-WIRE) BOSTON — Volumes have been written about post-Sept. 11 life, politics and business in the five years since terrorist hijackers killed almost 3,000 people in 2001, but experts say little attention has been given to the psychological impact of the attacks on the nation’s college students.

Dr. Paula Madrid, clinical director of the Resiliency Program at Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, said “terrorism has huge implications” for the generation of students on the cusp on choosing a career.

“A lot has happened to [this age group] in their desire to be more aware,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with political and social consciousness. A lot of it is related to anxiety … anxiety levels make people want to know more about topics.”

Madrid said the post-Sept. 11 anxiety, exacerbated by the anthrax-scare in the United States and bombings on London and Madrid’s public transportation systems, has challenged the resilience of late adolescents.

She said the adolescents most affected by the attacks are hesitant to trust the government. According to her, the general population has split into two reactionary groups: those who desire immediate answers and those who recede from the complexities of post-Sept. 11 life.

According to Richard Mollica, professor of psychology at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma at Massachusetts General Hospital, the anxiety and confusion of adolescents has been worsened by a society that ignores their needs.

“The bottom line is that the adolescents are not engaged by the society to participate in the reconstruction of the society,” he said.

“There’s a responsibility of the society to mobilize the natural inborn idealism of the youth, their tremendous energy, their physical power and desire to help into a socially constructive healing force,” he continued. “This does not occur, and this is a terrible story.”

According to Mollica, the reaction of young adults in traumatic situations — like the Sept. 11 attacks — are very specific.
“If you look at the reaction to violence, the humiliation that usually occurs from violence, there’s two basic social responses: anger and revenge, and hopeless and despair,” Mollica said. “And the youth, like the adults, oscillate between [both].”

There are only two studies that deal with the effects the attacks had on students: one published in the American Journal of Health Studies titled “Lifestyle and Perceptional Changes Among College Students Since September 11” and one published in the Journal of College Student Development titled “Stress, Social Support, and Health Among College Students after September 11, 2001.”

Most literature dealing with the attacks has focused on the United States’ preparedness for another attack and the steps it has taken to prevent one.

Irwin Redlener, associate dean of Columbia University’s MSPH and director of the NCDP, said despite the fact that Sept. 11 officially brought the United States into the arena of international terrorism, America is not prepared for another “mega-disaster.”

“I’ve been in the public health practice and this kind of work for 35 years, and I’ve never seen a government program with so much money and so little accountability,” Redlener said about the Department of Homeland Security.

Students and faculty who were on college campuses on Sept. 11 and live in the Boston area agree with his assessments.

“I actually took a class on Homeland Security taught by professor [Arthur] Hulnick in the fall semester of 2003,” said Hilla Israeli, who graduated from Boston University in 2005 and still lives in the Boston area, in an e-mail. “From what I learned in the class and what I continue to learn, it appears to me that the Department of Homeland Security is not effective.”

Seth Kroll, a 2005 graduate from American University and who now works at BU Hillel House, said he does not know what else the government could do to make the country safer.

“I do not think that enough was done by the federal or local governments to make the country safer,” he said in an e-mail. “But I also do not think that there is anything else that they can do to make the country safer.”

BU Arabic professor Shakir Mustafa said that although he sees a large anti-Arab sentiment among the general population, BU students are more interested in studying Arabic and the Middle East.

“There is a positive aspect to it that we cannot minimize,” Mustafa said. “Students are interested and are taking classes in Arab and Middle-Eastern culture and Islam.”