The University Record, March 18, 2002

Classroom impact of 9/11 varies by course, department

By Theresa Maddix

“Sept. 11 is one of a class of things that are out of the ordinary that can and probably should affect our teaching, even if just for a day,” says David Winter, professor of psychology. “Even if it screws up the syllabus a little or a lot, it’s just the right thing to do.”

The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (CRLT) hosted a roundtable luncheon March 14 bringing together faculty and graduate students to discuss their teaching while “Dealing with the Aftermath of September 11.”

Faculty members shared quite disparate experiences from the classroom—both at the critical moments when the World Trade Center was collapsing and now as the six-month anniversary passes.

Dennis Hopkins, chair of the Navy Officer Education Program, said that on Sept. 11 he told his students, “We’re going to finish class because our mission hasn’t changed.” Despite his resolve and even readiness, Hopkins does admit that between classes he shut himself into the room for a “long, one-sided conversation” with the room’s portrait of the officer who was in charge of the campus Navy ROTC program in 1941.

Hopkins sees a “heightened sense of deliberation” in his predominantly senior classes. The students’ “immediate focus is getting ready to go overseas.”

Robbin Wimmler, assistant professor of the Air Force Education Program, also is teaching students who are about to leave on life and death assignments. Wimmler’s eyes filled with emotion as she said, “I wear the blue suit to defend the nation, and this is something we have to defend our nation against.”

Ironically, Wimmler had been teaching her students the week of Sept. 11 that “terrorism is a possibility.” The fateful day “brought a real meaning to what they were learning.”

Former CRLT director and professor emeritus Donald Brown had a different experience teaching a first-year seminar, “My Grandfather Went to War,” about World War II. Brown, a WWII veteran, sees a huge contrast in the way his students today are reacting and the way he reacted as a high school senior when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Brown says his students, “don’t see any immediate consequences. With Pearl Harbor, it was perfectly obvious our lives were going to be drastically changed in the very near future.”

J. David Singer, professor of political science and a World War II veteran, teaches a senior seminar on “The Global System.” Singer says neither he nor his students were surprised about the attacks. His course shows “the tremendous hostility to the U.S.” that exists in the larger world.

Singer says, “We have a moral obligation to be aware of world affairs.”

Winter says in political psychology his students were still too stunned Sept. 11 to talk about what happened. Through fall semester, “it drew the class closer together. We were more like a family because of our sense of vulnerability and shared experience.”

Alfred Young, assistant professor of sociology and of afroamerican and African studies, “walked out of the building and realized something major had gone on.” Through the term, his discussion-oriented class “drew from the present moment to explore topics.” His class had both Arab Americans whose relatives had been abused and in one case physically attacked, and relatives of people who had died in New York.

The roundtable was prompted by a set of guidelines CRLT sent to all U-M faculty at 5 p.m. Sept. 11, titled “Guidelines for Post 9/11 Discussion.” The guidelines are available from the CRLT Web site, www.crlt.umich.edu.