Post 9/11 Symposium Brings an Interdisciplinary Perspective to the Terrorist Attacks

Photo: Mike Peters

A diverse cross-section of the Montclair State University community met together at a symposium in Memorial Auditorium on October 12 to reflect upon the events of September 11, 2001, and to discuss how America has changed since then. Titled “Imagination in the Post-9/11 World: How Have We Changed?” the symposium was organized by the Creative Research Center in observance of the tenth anniversary of the events of that day.

Featuring a discussion by an interdisciplinary panel of Montclair State faculty and staff, a multi-media presentation, an audience-participation question and answer session, and a dance performance by student dance majors, the symposium served as a chance for participants to remember the day and share their thoughts about how America has changed as a result.

College of the Arts Dean Geoffrey Newman opened the symposium with words of welcome, speaking about his dream of a Creative Research Center that—as this symposium did—crosses boundaries. Symposium organizer Neil Baldwin, who is the director of the Creative Research Center, professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and an historian began planning the event more than two years ago. “After a respectful pause memorializing the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, this is a separate cultural moment to highlight where we’ve come from and where we are going,” he said.

The panelists were Lori Katterhenry, director, Dance program; Harry Haines, chair, Communication Studies; Scott Kight, Molecular Biology; Norma Connolly, chair, Justice Studies; Ofelia Rodriguez-Srednicki, Psychology; and Mike Peters, University photographer. Each spoke about their experiences and thoughts about 9/11.

“It was the first time I wondered if I was safe,” recalled Ofelia Rodriguez-Srednicki. “My idea that America was a safe place was shattered that day.” Describing 9/11 as a “marker event”—one which causes us to always remember where we were and who we were with—Rodriguez-Srednicki said it was a very personal moment for her. She recounted being near the World Trade Center in 1993 when it was bombed and knowing that if she had been in that same spot in 2001 she would have been in grave danger. As a mother, she worried about her son in New York City; as a professor, she taught college students trying to make sense of what had occurred; as a clinical psychologist, she counseled those with post-traumatic stress disorders. Now, she teaches an interdisciplinary course on terrorism.

Norma Connolly described her experience through her lens as an attorney. Raised in Spain, a country that had a totalitarian regime, she experienced 9/11 with the same type of personal reaction as most: worry for the safety of her loved ones. Connolly drew a parallel of the nation’s reaction to that which was experienced after Pearl Harbor: national unity, shock, and horror. But she also wondered how this terrorism would impact our democracy. She describes the USA Patriot Act as the realization and confirmation of her fears. “Fear makes us have to change our reality,” she said.

Harry Haines spoke of how mediated cultural forms—films, novels, television, etc.—are altered by war, disaster, and death, and how it takes time for us to process such events. A scholar and veteran of the Vietnam War, Haines said it took the establishment of the Vietnam War Memorial in 1996 to allow the nation to process the meaning of all the death in Vietnam. Likewise, “the cultural form of the 9/11 Memorial had to fit into the ongoing story of who we are and where we are headed. It takes time. It’s only been 10 years,” he said, adding, “Cultural forms will continue to try to process the meaning of our losses.”

Lori Katterhenry wondered, “can we be playful and on guard at the same time?” She described the “indomitable imagination and cheeky, wide-eyed optimism” as part of our American ethos and that our shared belief in freedom personifies and unites us. When asked by a student if she had seen less risk taking after 9/11, she commented that even in what should be the safe space of a dance studio, she saw more guardedness in students.

Scott Kight was at work on campus when the Twin Towers were attacked. In the days and weeks that followed, then-new Science Hall with its microbiology lab became an area of focus. The lab was a living classroom—a place for teaching and research by faculty and students. But after 9/11 and the fear of bioterrorism, the laboratory—like every lab of its kind—came under government scrutiny. The CIA wanted to know what the security features were, how the lab was monitored, and who had access to it. The lab ultimately had to be fitted with security and monitoring systems resulting in the faculty and students having to change the way they worked. “Is knowledge still free and open when you have to lock doors?” Kight mused.

Mike Peters offered his multi-media presentation, The Dream, as a representation of his creativity in a post 9/11 world. Describing himself as “hopelessly adrift” in the year following the attacks, he set out to look at the dreams and possibilities of the average American. Peters photographed what he called, “average hard-working, unpretentious people who usually go unnoticed” as his way of acknowledging their existence. (View The Dream below.)

After a spirited question and answer session, the symposium concluded with the BFA dance students’ presentation of “Opening Circle,” from the classic There is a Time (1956) by Jose Limon. The somber yet uplifting dance was a fitting close to a thought-provoking and memorable event.

The Dream by Mike Peters - spoken word statement from Mike Peters on Vimeo.