9/11: A Campus Perspective

Published: September 11, 2015


At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001 American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of The World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower. At 9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon. At 10:07 a.m. the hijackers purposefully crashed United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in Somerset County after the passengers aboard attempted to retake the airplane. In total, 2,977 people died as victims of the attack. Five of those who died were University alumni. Their names have since been enshrined in the Madonna della Strada Chapel. According to The Scranton Alumni Journal, 32 others who were related to students and graduates lost their lives.

Terresa Grettano, Ph.D., assistant professor at The University, teaches the first-year seminar “Making Meaning of 9/11.” She completed her master’s dissertation on 9/11 and is still researching the event.

She believes, even 14 years removed from the tragedy, students can still learn lessons from that day.

“Our student body have all grown up in the aftermath of September 11. It’s a given entity for you. It’s there, it’s happened. Especially because it’s so new, you haven’t taken the time to think about it or analyze it, or question it. It’s kind of reality,” Grettano said.

Grettano is personally connected with 9/11 as well as professionally. She is a New Yorker and knew many people directly affected by the attacks. She had friends and family who worked as officers and firefighters in the city at the time of the attacks, including her mother working at John F Kennedy International airport in the same building as the FBI headquarters.

“As somebody who is from New York and whose family is directly connected to this stuff, I had a responsibility to tell our story in a certain way,” Grettano said.

Some of Grettano’s relatives were first responders.

“My brother-in-law, who was engaged to my sister at the time, was a New York City firefighter. On 9/11 he got called down to the Trade Center,” Grettano said.

Grettano, like many others, lost people who were close to her that day. Her cousin, who was a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, died at the World Trade Center. He was promoted to captain posthumously.

“His wife Teresa, who was 32-years-old at the time, was left to raise their four children,” Grettano said.

Matt Connors, a senior, is close with people whose loved ones were directly affected by 9/11.

“I have family and friends who lost people. My pastor lost his brother and talks about it around this time every year. I got the sense that people wanted to continue on after that kind of a loss. They had to be strong,” Connors said.

She says her experience with 9/11 was a unique one. While her family was in New York City she was 1,213 miles away in Mobile, Alabama living with and teaching international students. She remembers where she was and what she was feeling.

“I just finished my master’s and was teaching full-time at the University of South Alabama. I was an hour behind New York. I was asleep,” Grettano said.

Grettano remembered hearing the phone ringing through her apartment while she was still in bed.

“The phone started ringing and I ignored it. Nobody in their right mind should be calling me at 7:30, 8 o’clock in the morning. I was not getting out of bed to answer,” Grettano said.

Some time passed before it rang again — this time with a different caller.

“My father’s voice echoed through the apartment. ‘Teresa, it’s daddy. I don’t know if you’re at work yet or not but don’t bother calling your mother at the airport you’ll never get through. Call me at home when you can,’” Grettano said.

Having heard her father’s voice on the answering machine, Grettano rushed out of bed to answer the phone.

“I jumped out of bed. My boyfriend, who I was living with at the time, asked what was going on and I said, ‘I think they just blew up the f—ing airport,’,” Grettano said.

Grettano said growing up in New York and having a mother who worked in the airport meant attacks were always a possibility, although it was never called or considered terrorism before 9/11. She says even today she had no idea whom ‘they’ were at the time.

Grettano picked up the phone to call her father back and turned on the TV. She turned the news on just in time to see the second plane fly into the South Tower.

She remembers who she was speaking to during the early part of the day as well.

“I was on the phone with my father, and my sister was on the phone with her fiancé, who was at the firehouse. She was on the phone with him when the alarm went off for him to have to go down there,” Grettano said.

Grettano didn’t have her class of international students until 6 p.m. After her mother called around 1 p.m. to tell her she was home safely, Grettano prepared a speech for her class that evening. She had class in the courtyard to make sure she had cellular reception in case someone called.

Her sister called during the class. She remembers going a couple feet away from her students and answering.

Grettano was waiting for her sister to call and tell her that her brother-in-law was alive. They knew he left to go to the World Trade Center but had not heard from him until then.

“I can’t believe to this day that I took that call at that moment,” Grettano said.

While Grettano says the reactions to 9/11 such as the call to service and support from foreign nations and her international students was amazing, she sees gaps in the cultural memory about 9/11.

“Some of the details that I remember were sort of erased from the cultural memory,” Grettano said.

Grettano believes one of the most often overlooked aspects of 9/11 is the contract situation of the New York City Fire Department.

“The fire department at the time of 9/11 was working without a contract. They worked without a contract after 9/11 for three years. Even after 343 firefighters died they still couldn’t agree,” Grettano said.

Grettano is not the only academic at The University that helps students understand and analyze the causes, effects and lasting impacts of 9/11. Mike Allison, Ph.D., chairperson of the political science department and associate professor at The University, teaches “September 11, 2001 and Beyond.” This political science course breaks down 9/11 and the series of events before and after the attack, as well as taking a close look at the political and social implications.

Like Grettano, Allison said after the attacks the U.S. received support, sympathy and help from other nations around the world.

“People were going to U.S. embassies all over the world and bringing flowers. Cuba helped and allowed U.S. passenger planes to land,” Allison said.

He felt the U.S. was treated compassionately all over the world and noted that there was a strong sentiment to fight back against al-Qaida, particularly when it came to Afghanistan. There was opposition from other nations, however.

“Some didn’t believe the Afghan government was behind it, while others believed that if a group of a hundred or so individuals did attack the U.S. that it wasn’t enough justification to invade a country,” Allison said.

Allison noted the reaction of U.S. politicians in the days and weeks that followed 9/11.

“There were a lot of hateful things that came out of U.S. politicians in the days and weeks that followed at 9/11,” Allison said.

Allison believes the reaction was sickening to both Americans and the rest of the world.
“Political officials encouraging mass murder and targeting a whole country made the rest of the world shudder. It made Americans shudder,” Allison said.

Allison said he believes the declaration of “War on Terror” instead of a war on al-Qaida and The Taliban was a misstep by the U.S. government.

“This was a broad strokes approach against any terrorists of international reach and states or groups that harbor them, not those who attack us,” Allison said.

Allison said the global reaction to the War on Terror was negative and contributed to the loss of good-will toward the U.S.

“The rest of the world looked at it through rational eyes and thought that was a terrible policy,” Allison said.

Many questioned the legitimacy of the U.S. declaring war on a tactic. Others thought the War on Terror was a huge overreach. The U.S. commitment to rooting out global terrorism led to American troops being stationed on every continent around the world.

Allison said Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida were expecting a completely different reaction by the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks. They were expecting a bombardment of cruise missiles, like the previous administration had used.

When the U.S. declared war instead, they bunkered down and anticipated a massive U.S. invasion similar to the Soviet forces they faced from 1979-1989. The U.S. responded with a few ground troops initially, eventually resorting to Special Forces on the ground calling in airstrike after airstrike.

Allison said the lack of man power contributed to U.S. troops being unable to prevent Bin Laden’s escape over the border to Pakistan in 2001. He is critical of much of the legislation and political results of 9/11 as well.

“We were worried about a second wave of attacks. That we had people planning to hurt us,” Allison said.
Allison believes the biggest impact of the 9/11 attacks was the fear it caused Americans.

“There’s a lot of fear of ‘the other’ in our country. Fear of people who can or will do us harm, especially if they are Muslim. That makes us misunderstand all of the actual threats to our livelihood,” Allison said.

Sarah Fitch, a senior, noticed the strong anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. at the time.

“I feel like people had stereotypes of people from the Middle East. They judged people based solely on their appearance,” Fitch said.

Sondra Myers, the senior fellow for international, civic and cultural projects and director of the Schemel Forum at The University, feels that the best way to overcome this fear of other cultures is to understand that we are the same in a global sense.

Myers is the co-founder of Interdependence Day, which was created in 2003.

“It was created as a response to 9/11. It was to promote recovery and recognize that we are interdependent, for better or for worse,” Myers said.

Myers brought the event to Scranton in 2004, and it has since become an annual event.

This year’s event took place on Sept. 2, 2015 at the Scranton Cultural Center and featured a panel discussion about higher education and the culture of interdependence.

The Rev. Dr. Kevin Quinn, S.J., JD., Ph.D., The University’s president, was among the panelists, along with the presidents of Marywood University, Lackawanna College and Keystone College.

“Education is supposed to be for others. Educate yourself for others. That’s it in a nutshell,” Myers said.

“Sometimes people are too busy doing what they’re doing, they’re not thinking about that. It’s calling attention to something.

Think of all the progress that we make in the world. It is because someone calls attention to it,” Myers said.

Grettano agrees with Myers that 9/11 can be used as a cause for reflection and self-evaluation.
Grettano said she felt there was a lack of reflection, especially when it came to the War on Terror. She remembers bringing Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., into her class to speak with her students about the possibility of reconciliation.

He asked the class how the world would be different today if the U.S. and its citizens had responded with forgiveness instead of war, both as individuals and as a country.

Grettano sees 9/11 as the loss of American innocence. She believes this was the first time that Americans felt vulnerable and afraid on such a massive scale.

“The sadness was absolutely that human beings were dead on the first level. On the second level, it was that people who belong to us were dead,” Grettano said. “But on the third level, there was now a real possibility that human beings on our soil can be killed,”.

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