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Nichols College Professors Discuss the Impact of 9/11 on Education and Society

Where were you on 9/11? We talked with professors who are experts in the field of counterterrorism studies about the impact that fateful day has had on education and society.  

“In the first couple years, teaching about 9/11 was very raw and emotional because everyone would talk about where they were that day,” Professor Boyd Brown, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran said. “But as time goes on, the memory of 9/11 has become less raw and, more importantly, our students have fewer and fewer memories of it.” 
 
Criminal Justice Management Chair and Professor Allison McDowell-Smith agreed, saying “students are now reading about 9/11 in their history courses…The 9/11 of their time was the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013.”

The Boston Marathon Bombings could be what drives students to learn about counterterrorism and violent extremism, as professors have noticed an increase in student interest over the years. 
 
Because of the growing interest, a Masters in Counterterrorism was added to the Nichols College of Graduate and Professional Studies offerings in 2017. The program was created and is now directed by McDowell-Smith and is proudly the first graduate program in the U.S. to proactively examine violent extremism and terrorism. 
 
On the undergraduate level, two successful courses are War on Terror instructed by History Program Chair and Professor Michael Neagle, and Terrorism and Homeland Security, instructed by Boyd.

“9/11 is a focal point and where we start the class,” Neagle said. “My course charts the roots of al Qaeda’s war with the United States as well as the consequences of the ensuing Global War on Terror.” 

Boyd says he covers the material “by using 9/11 as a common reference point for students, and then we ‘travel’ in a broad arc that returns to 9/11 when we explore the consequences of the event.” 
 
But as many college students in 2020 don’t remember 9/11, professors have had to adjust their teaching styles. 

“I have found myself playing the ‘Today Show’ footage of 9/11 to my students to help them understand the magnitude of the events happening in ‘real time’,” said McDowell-Smith. 

To facilitate a meaningful discussion, she asks her students to reflect back on their memories and experience with the Boston Marathon Bombings and make comparisons. “We have the discussion of how we have evolved or not evolved since 9/11; which helps put terrorism education into the proper context.” 
We asked the Professors themselves to have this discussion and evaluate how we’ve evolved as a society since 9/11. 
 
McDowell-Smith pointed out the societal shift to prioritize emergency and disaster management on man-made hazards rather than natural. McDowell-Smith says “after 9/11 we as a society began to examine all threats related to terrorism as our top priority. The Department of Homeland Security was formed shortly after 9/11 and significant funds were allocated to fight the war against terrorism, initially to combat al-Qaeda then ISIS.” 
 
Boyd empathized the external hostility towards people from “away” that government policies following 9/11 caused. “Hostility clearly manifested itself in the way we have treated Muslims, both here and abroad, but it has also shaped the way we treat other groups who we want to demonize. After 9/11, it seems to have become more acceptable to refer to anyone we dislike as terrorists, which immediately delegitimizes the cause they are fighting for.” 
 
And Neagle insists that “the tragedy does not merely end with that day. In the ensuing years, the U.S. Global War on Terror has compounded the effects of 9/11—more than $6 trillion spent; at least 37 million people displaced worldwide; some 800,000 people dead in conflicts across the Middle East; documented tortures of detainees and drone attacks that have stocked anti-Americanism abroad.”
 
Boyd added that “we have plunged forward, year after year, pouring money into questionable efforts to protect us against terrorists abroad while simultaneously ignoring the threats from domestic groups and other issues of national importance.” 

It’s these changes in society and the “War on Terror” that drives these professors to continue their research and educating students. And it’s this desire to teach that makes Nichols College one of the leaders in criminal justice and counterterrorism.