The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 20, No.1, Summer 2002


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SEPTEMBER 11 ON ACADEMIA



The tragic events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath have affected our campus community deeply, leading us to attempt to “understand the unthinkable,” to ask questions and seek answers. Here, a student and dean talk about how the events shaped the year at UMD.

Jill C. Nickelson, junior, exercise science major, left her physics class on September 11, 2001 and saw something unusual. She said, “A crowd had gathered by the Kirby Information Desk; they were listening to the radio.That’s when I heard what had happened. It suddenly became very important for me to check in with my mom.” Nickelson called her mom immediately and then called a friend in New York.

Nickelson said that she didn’t comprehend the whole situation that morning, “UMD had classes all day so it wasn’t until that afternoon, when I got home, that I saw the television images.”

She said that at first, things were different at UMD. Student organizations collected mittens, socks and funds for the victims and rescue workers in New York. “Everyone became more serious, but then gradually my friends got back to normal. But I do feel changed. I realize now that I was leading a sheltered life, I took my life for granted. I never thought anything like September 11 could happen in the U.S.”

Nickelson said, “That day has stayed with me. It was as strong as a slap in the face. I have a new understanding about the way America is viewed around the world. I used to feel invulnerable because we are the most prosperous country in the world. But our government is not put on a pedestal by many nations. The attack made me realize that we have serious problems in the U.S.”

Paul Deputy, Dean of the College of Education and Human Service Professions, was in a Transformational Leadership Seminar on September 11. “We were all stunned,” he said, “but after the shock wore off, we agreed that the world needs transformational leadership now, more than ever.” Deputy came out of his session resolved to make a difference at UMD.

A week later biology Professor Raj Karim came into Dean Deputy’s office with an idea and together they devised a plan to present workshops and forums on terrorism to the campus. Vice Chancellor Vince Magnuson had agreed to provide some funding and Deputy pledged financial resources from his college. Deputy challenged the other colleges to do the same, “We were then able to plan a series of three workshops and a culminating conference called Cultural and Global Perspectives on Terrorism.” Over 100 students attended each of the workshops. It was obvious from the interest that students were looking for answers.

The workshops purposefully included global topics instead of focusing on the Middle East. “The response was amazing,” said Deputy. “We learned that terrorism is everywhere. A student from Columbia told us how terrorism tore up her family. A Jewish woman talked about frightening events she witnessed in New York City, a faculty member from South Africa gave a personal account of life in South Africa during apartheid, and a person from an area college talked about conflict in Ireland. Perhaps the most powerful moment for me was when a Native American faculty member on one of the panels asked us if we thought terrorism came to the U.S. on September 11. He assured us it has been here for a long, long time.”

People felt an overwhelming need to make changes in their lives and to work for social justice. “When students asked me what they could do, my answer was to encourage them to start with their own education and personal development and after that commit to influencing family and friends, their communities, their state, their nation, and ultimately the world,” said Deputy. “I saw the process in action. After one of the workshops I ran into a psychology student and right there in the bank lobby we talked about how to make a difference in society. I saw her recently and she told me she has joined the Peace Corp.”

UMD’s reaction to the events of September 11 was immediate, heartfelt and inspiring and in dozens of ways every day, we reminded each other that our sense of community is our strongest asset.

— Cheryl Reitan

 

 
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