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City Tech Reflects on Events of 9/11 in Moving Ways

On September 8, 2011, Professor Julia Jordan and Dr. Stephen Soiffer led New York City College of Technology’s remembrance of the events of 9/11, reflecting on the lives of those members of the City Tech community who were lost that day and the role City Tech played as tens of thousands of survivors streamed off the Brooklyn Bridge into the borough’s downtown area on their long walk home. At the conclusion of the program, SEEK Director Dorie Clay movingly read Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” a poem printed in The New Yorker that received worldwide attention following the 9/11 attacks.

We all remember that terrible Tuesday. The men piloting those planes came unannounced like thieves in the night and took from us a confirmed 2,753 men, women and children as well as the twin towering Lower Manhattan skyscrapers they thought symbolic of what they hated about America. In little more than 100 minutes, they stripped Earth’s last remaining superpower – nestled between the world’s two largest oceans to its east and west and two friendly countries to its north and south – of the illusion of security with which it had cloaked itself for decades.

In New York City, September 11, 2001 dawned as a pleasantly sunny late-summer morning as millions of us made our way to work and school and other destinations. As we went about our tasks that morning, what likely was on the minds of most of us was that our day would consist of business as usual, whatever the nature of that business. But as with all things in life, there is a before and an after, and 8:46 and 9:03 a.m. would mark two minutes on the clock that day that would separate our city’s past from its future and alter our sense of ourselves and the world around us.

About an hour after the first plane struck, scores of City Tech students, faculty and staff were on the streets surrounding the College, prepared to respond to the various needs of the great wave of displaced persons who eventually rounded the curve of the Brooklyn Bridge exit onto Adams and Tillary Streets. It was a silent and orderly procession of thousands of people on foot that finally made its way off the bridge into Downtown Brooklyn, where the College is located. Eerily absent that morning was the noisy clamor characteristic of the hysteria that typically accompanies disruptive events of epic proportions.

As stream after stream of soot-covered men, women and children made their way off the bridge, few of them were talking. Those who stopped to avail themselves of the hundreds of hastily-made sandwiches, containers of water, bandages to cover minor wounds, and other comforting amenities that the City Tech students, faculty and staff offered had little to say, except perhaps to ask for the location of the nearest pay phone and for directions to such and such a secondary street. The words most often uttered by the countless thousands left all but speechless by the morning’s events were “thank you.” In fact, most of what was heard that day and the night to follow consisted of the endless screech of sirens, as ambulances, fire trucks, police cars and military vehicles sped every which way in response to the tragic events of September 11. Before that day was over, City Tech and its neighbors throughout Downtown Brooklyn would tend to the needs of countless people, and the College would even house some overnight.

It would be several days before what had happened fully sank in and people began to speak at any length and in any depth about what it all meant. September 11, 2001 had pulled many rugs from under our feet; New York City had been clobbered not by a nuclear attack or by some natural disaster of devastating dimensions, but by the price of a handful of airline tickets. For a time the face that our city and nation presented to the world was one of both humility and resolve, and we were kind to one another and set aside both the petty and more serious differences that earlier had consumed much of our energy. On campus, we mourned those we knew of lost at Ground Zero.

Someone once wittingly observed that “time wounds all heals,” and things eventually returned to a kind of normal. Each year we have observed the anniversary of that frightful day by celebrating anew the lives of those who were lost, including the hundreds of firefighters and police officers who forfeited their own lives in bravely saving thousands of others. In time, we went after those responsible in places halfway around the world and brought many of them – and eventually their leader – to justice. There was nothing wrong in our acting to locate and hold responsible those who had engineered the downing of the World Trade Center and the taking of all those lives. But as we repeatedly examine the events of September 11, have we taken a deep enough look at what it was that made those who attacked New York and the Pentagon hate America so much to do what they did?

Other Faculty Remember 9/11
Assistant Professor of English Robert Leston and collaborators draw on the concept of “chora” in a video that shows how the former Ground Zero and current WTC site can be thought of as a space for invention (but also mourning).
Cleveland Plain Dealer article on Assistant Professor of Nursing Fran McGibbon’s study on the effects on parents of firefighters killed on 9/11.


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