Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history. Thousands of New Yorkers attended tributes and ceremonies throughout the city, where they commemorated the lives lost following the destruction of the twin towers. The events that occurred on 9/11 still — and always will — hold a significant place in the collective memory of the nation. For many, this tragedy is simply a historical point in time, but for those who live and work within New York City, the day is particularly meaningful. This event is also important to a number of NYU faculty, staff and students. Yet, for a university that is supposed to be definitively “in and of the city,” NYU does surprisingly little to commemorate this important event.
With so many students hailing from states or nations physically untouched by 9/11, recognizing the ties between the city and Ground Zero can be difficult. Belonging to the New York community demands a respect for these ties that is more profound than a mere glance at memorial displays in storefront windows. Students are free to seek this appreciation themselves, but the university has a unique opportunity to offer remembrance programs that highlight the significance of 9/11 to its incoming classes. If the goal of NYU is to create global-minded citizens, then the first step is to reckon with the history of their city.
NYU would do well to provide some way of introducing students to serious discussion of the complicated aftermath of 9/11. Many professors and staff have been personally affected by this tragedy, and letting them share their stories would create a powerful and emotional foundation for a student’s continuing education in New York City. Hosting an event that discusses the complexities of 9/11 today would allow students to plumb the depths of this subject in an intelligent and nuanced manner. This does not mean there needs to be a mandated course on the history of the city — an optional discussion, seminar or lecture annually hosted by the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs, for example, would suffice.
Too many students are drawn to NYU’s promise to be immersed in the city without properly understanding what that immersion entails. We are lucky to have the opportunity to learn and participate in NYC — not merely to consume the experiences that it has to offer, but to reflect on our role within that community. In the end, scholarship is the greatest thing the NYU community can give to incoming students, the future New Yorkers. A flashpoint event like the 9/11 attacks leaves deep physical, mental and political scars that NYU students would benefit from closely studying. After all, understanding the wound is the first step to healing it.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, September 12 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]