While most undergraduate students weren’t alive or don’t remember Sept. 11, 2001, the events of that day have indisputably changed the trajectory of our daily lives. The Kernel asked several UK faculty members where they were when they heard about the collapse of the World Trade Center and how life has changed since. Here are their responses, edited for length and clarity.
Karen Petrone: history professor
On that sunny September morning 20 years ago, I was working at home, and when I heard the news about a plane crash at the World Trade Center on the radio, I turned on the TV in time to witness the second plane crashing into the second tower. My husband and I couldn't turn our eyes away from the TV all day—until it was time to pick up our daughter at Kindergarten.
My husband and I are both New Yorkers and we took the attack very personally. The World Trade Center was an icon of my childhood—I watched as it was built and was very proud at the time that it was the tallest building in the world. My mother-in-law lived only a few miles away from the WTC site, and it felt that day like the whole city was under attack. I did not know any of the victims myself, but some of them were friends of friends.
The impact has been profound—we have been at war for the last twenty years and government surveillance has become stronger at the expense of civil liberties. The threat of terror created an atmosphere of hyper-patriotism that silenced dissenters and of Islamophobia that stereotyped Muslim Americans. 9/11 has certainly contributed to the political polarization that we see today.
Kimberly Stoltzfus: Lewis honors college instructor
I was 28 years old. I remember it distinctly. I got up and I turned on the TV that day, and it was one of the most ridiculous topics, like how to wear pantyhose correctly or something like that—and this was a serious new station. I sort of laughed to myself even walking to the DuPont Circle metro station, and then I was underground. And everything was fine.
I was getting in the elevator to my office and people were talking about a plane that hit a building. Then, as we were going up slowly in this elevator, someone said, “I heard a second plane also hit a building.” I was just shaking my head in kind of disbelief, and I got out of the elevator and as I walked out to my floor, I just sensed this heaviness. I was shaking. We had no information. I don't even know where the information came from, to be honest, because no one could connect online. But we thought it was the end of the world, like we thought it was the apocalypse.
Washington D.C. turned into a third-world country. There were tanks that were rolling through the city, there were people, men with rifles and guns on the streets and spotlights everywhere, jet planes flying over us for weeks and weeks and weeks. So you can imagine that when your life is changed so dramatically, a lot of people have this all-of-a-sudden desire to do something about it. Like I can't just stand on the sidelines, I want to be part of protecting our nation, I want to do something.
After September 11, it was an amazing time in our country's history, even though it was undergirded by extraordinary pain and tragedy. So, sometimes, I think we should remember it a little bit more, you know, recall what happened that day, recall the sacrifices that were made and forget politics for a moment, I think, in what's the best interest of this nation.
Eladio Bobadilla: assistant history professor
On September 11, 2001, I was a freshman in high school, and I woke up that day thinking it would be like any other. I would always turn on the TV and leave it on in the background as I got ready for school. That’s what I did that morning, only instead of the usual slate of early-morning cartoons and giddy morning shows, every channel was showing the chaotic scenes coming out of New York City (and Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania).
It was obvious that something was wrong. A plane crashed into a massive office tower. Then another. I’d never heard of the World Trade Center or the Twin Towers. It was all so strange, so dizzying. I went to school, but every class period was just all of us watching the news, trying to make sense of what had happened, wondering what had happened and why. There was nothing but eerie silence and mute grief hanging over all of us, even though we were across the country.
It was a surreal day, unlike any I’d ever experienced before or have experienced since. Pretty quickly, I knew the world in which I lived was forever changed. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Justin Wedeking: political science professor
I was in Oxford, Mississippi, just starting the second year of my master’s degree at the University of Mississippi. I had just finished showering when I heard the news about the first Tower getting hit. At that time there was very little news about what was going on, and so I proceeded to go to campus. By the time I got to the political science department’s computer lab the second tower had been hit. I then sat there listening to coverage of the events on the radio with a few others when we heard the broadcaster describe one of the towers collapse. At that point, I immediately went back to my apartment to watch news coverage for the next few days.
It has touched just about every aspect of our lives. Aside from the obvious war, perhaps the most significant impact has been on American foreign policy that has also led to many new domestic policies revolving around security. Perhaps the most tangible aspect to me that I’m reminded of is airport security.
I still remember when we could walk directly to the terminal gate without needing a ticket to get through security. Now, going through security reminds me of that day.
Scott Hutson: anthropology professor
I was in Oakland, California driving to an elementary school. It was strange because I was driving at, like, 8:30 a.m., which is 11:30 a.m. New York City time. In my apartment, I didn't have Internet, I didn’t have a TV, I didn’t listen to the radio. I mean, every now and then I’d buy a newspaper, and I had a newspaper but it was from yesterday’s news.And so, as I was driving to Oakland, I got on the interstate highway and there were like no cars. I was like, what is going on here, this is the rush hour, why is there so little traffic? So, finally when I got to the elementary school I heard about the news, so that’s how I found out.
I don’t really remember how I felt the moment I got the news, because I was sort of trying to figure out what happened. But, as I was driving back from that school, I sort of felt like we were in a new era in the sense that any major metropolitan city or center could be a target. I was thinking, well, you know, we’re just living by chance here.
Kakie Urch: journalism professor
At the time of the 9/11 attack, I was the editor of the Kentucky Enquirer. I was in a newsroom. We had televisions in our newsroom in Kentucky, which was a little bit unusual at the time. I walked into my newsroom to take my 9:30 a.m. conference call meeting with the people on the other side of the river in Cincinnati. When I walked into the newsroom, we saw the plane flying into the Twin Towers, which were a huge part of the Manhattan landscape. I grew up in a town called Rowayton, Connecticut, and so I spent a lot of time at the beach there as a child. We saw the construction of the Twin Towers. The staff was trying to explain to me what had happened with the first flight. Then we see the second plane hit, live on TV. The moment I saw it happen, I literally fell to my knees and said a prayer and then we got busy.
Stephen Voss: political science professor
I was scheduled to speak in front of a classroom of high-school students on September 11 to discuss the value of political science. I turned on the television about an hour before I needed to leave, and immediately saw images of the burning World Trade Center. My prepared comments immediately became useless, but after such a tragedy, I would have no trouble convincing them how important politics could be!
The September 11 attacks did not touch anyone I knew, even indirectly. Those events hit home only when some of my students left to fight the War on Terror. Eventually they returned from the wars, hoping to complete their studies, but some struggled to readjust to civilian life. A few kept visiting my office hours to talk about their experiences because they could not relate to their classmates, who seemed so young and naive.
My students became significantly more conservative in the couple of years immediately following the September 11 attacks, but as the War on Terror dragged on, they began shifting leftward quickly. Even before the Great Recession started, I was sensing that the Millennial cohort might become the most politically lopsided generation since the Thirties.