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Commentary: Higher Education After 9/11

AU President Neil Kerwin on changes since the attacks

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 American University President Neil Kerwin 
American University
 American University President Neil Kerwin 

 

They were quite young on Sept. 11, 2001 when the attacks occurred.  Today, they are students at colleges and universities across the United States and throughout the world.  Their generation carries the weight of what happened that day. They remember where they were and how they felt. The events of that day stirred patriotism across the nation, including in this generation of students. They honor the service of those in the military and they joined the service themselves. More seek out and participate in public service opportunities in ways that generations before didn’t.  

The events of 9/11 changed courses of study and areas of research.  Students study those events and will continue to reflect on them. Last spring, for example, students at American University set out to examine their impact ago on today’s college students.  Their research found that college students and recent graduates are more likely to follow the news, study international relations, learn foreign languages, and be politically active because of September 11th.

That’s supported by national statistics.  And in the five years after September 11,th there was an increased interest in international affairs and religion courses according to Dr. Patricia Somers, a professor at University of Texas at Austin who studies the effects of 9/11 on civic involvement and the Millennial generation. On our own campus I see widespread interest in the world and its varied systems and cultures. 

As an educator for more than 30 years I have seen profound changes within universities since 9/11.  Emergency preparedness is an imperative and we are more alert to potential threats.  Today’s students, as well as their families, have higher expectations for the university to keep them informed about their security. The expectations for rapid and accurate communication in the event of a threat or real incident are among the most challenging, as is preserving the core values of university life while meeting our obligations to keep people safe.

Throughout the years, colleges and universities have brought together different cultural traditions, beliefs and viewpoints. This cannot change. We must expand on our efforts to educate our citizens for a lifetime of global issues, challenges and opportunities.  To do any less would be a disservice to our core mission.  And, if we do it well, we can help to ensure the horrors of 9/11 are not repeated.  

Neil Kerwin is the President of American University.  WAMU is licensed to American University.

 

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