UCLA Reflects on Country’s Divisions 5 Years After Sept. 11 Attacks

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — Five years ago, Jennifer Propper was in the car on her way to high school, listening to a local radio station, when she heard the deejay announce that two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

Like many others across the nation, Propper was confused when she first heard the news. She didn’t fully realize what had happened until she got to school and started talking to her friends. The second-year history student, who was then a freshman in high school, remembers that the attack was the topic of almost every class.

Most Americans have some memories of the events of Sept. 11 and the following days, and many of those memories include images of a country united, of flags draped over porches and “America: Open for Business” signs displayed in store windows.

The University of California at Los Angeles community experienced similar feelings of patriotism and unity.

Red and blue balloons arched over Weyburn Avenue in the week after the Sept. 11 attacks and the street was lined with flags flown in front of Westwood businesses, from Enzo’s Pizzeria to Oakley’s Barber Shop, according to the Daily Bruin archives.

The Daily Bruin reported that on Sept. 13, 2001, 8,000 students, faculty, alumni and other members of the UCLA community, gathered in front of Royce Hall, standing shoulder to shoulder, many of them weeping as they held onto friends and met eyes with strangers.
On the following day, Sept. 14, a smaller, impromptu group of students gathered in the same area for a silent memorial, according to the Daily Bruin.

Just as UCLA’s mood in September of 2001 reflected that of the rest of the country, the atmosphere on campus is a microcosm of the current political atmosphere of the country.

Though people have come together for services and other memorials in the days leading up to the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the unity both the nation and the campus experienced in the latter half of 2001 has been replaced by division. People both at UCLA and nationwide say these divisions are deeper than they were before Sept. 11.

Nationally, Democrats and Republicans argue over the effectiveness of national security measures and passionately debate topics including the war in Iraq and domestic policy, and polls show the American public is split in their support.

History Professor Jim Gelvin, who has taught at UCLA since well before 2001, said he has noticed a similar situation at UCLA.
“I think that in terms of my field there is a tendency among students and faculty to be more polarized than ever before,” Gelvin said.

Kyle Kleckner, a third-year political science student, said he has also witnessed student polarization within the political science major because students feel that more is at stake post Sept. 11 in both the personal and political realms.

Sept. 11 and the ensuing events — namely the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — have incited campus dialogue and protest; caused a shift in the focus of some classes dealing with modern politics; and even lead to the creation of entirely new classes.

Additional Fiat Lux seminars grew out of the original “Perspectives on Sept. 11” seminar, which started two weeks after the fall of the Twin Towers. The Sept. 11 seminars focused on subjects such as “Understanding the Taliban” and “National Security in the 21st Century.”

Student demand has encouraged the university to keep offering the one-unit seminars, which no longer focus exclusively on Sept. 11.
In winter 2006, UCLA offered for the first time a class titled “World Politics and U.S. Foreign Policy after Sept. 11, which dealt with current affairs and the ways in which the Sept. 11 attacks affected the world balance and American foreign policy.

After teaching a Fiat Lux seminar in 2003 on the government intelligence community and receiving positive feedback from students, Amy Zegart, a professor of public policy at UCLA, decided to develop an undergraduate course on the intelligence community, which will be offered in fall 2007.

Zegart said it is important to continue to address these topics because students will need to be able to understand the influence of Sept. 11 and the war on terror in the political sphere after they graduate.

“Conspiracy theories abound and it is important to give students the ability to read articles and be available to evaluate them, Zegart said, adding that she also modified other classes to incorporate topics relating to Sept. 11.

And professors have said students demonstrate an interest in the new courses.

Since Sept. 11, Zegart has seen student enrollment in courses pertaining to the Middle East, terrorism, Islam and the government intelligence community increase.

“Demand for these courses far outstrips supply,” said Zegart.
Students said the proximity of the Sept. 11 attacks — an attack on American soil with civilian targets — is what has made them interested in studying the event and its implications.

“We’ve been aware (that) the dangers and the actions of the rest of the world can and will affect us,” said Mark Guenzi, a second-year political-science student.