Remembering 9/11 at Williams: Why the College could be doing more

Michael Gibson-Prugh

The trajectory of my life was changed on September 11, 2001. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any loved ones that day, but a lot of people did. 2,996 people died, 6,000 were injured and many more have suffered from cancer and respiratory disease, including many first responders. I am forever grateful to those who rushed to the scene and gave their lives to try and save so many innocent people. I was lucky that no one I knew died during those attacks. My family left New York City after living there for over 20 years, putting me on a different course and changing how I grew up and saw the world. 

Every year I think about the wide-ranging impacts that stem from 9/11. That’s why I was shocked this year to see no mention of it in The Record, and only 2 mentions of it in the Daily Messages. I understand that 18 years is a long time, but the Williams community could be doing a lot more. I was disappointed there was no larger memorial on campus. I was disappointed that it seemed to barely register in peoples’ minds. But most of all, I think this was a missed opportunity. 

The September 11 attacks were one of the most important days of the 21st century, shaping much of our politics and public discourse. The War in Afghanistan began 26 days after 9/11, a war which we continue to fight in today, making it America’s longest war. After September 11, there was a sizeable increase in Islamophobia and hate crimes directed at Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. 9/11 first responders continue to die, and there was moral outrage far reported when several members of Congress missed a meeting about the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund this summer. For all of that frustration directed at members of Congress, we as a community did not show up last week. We failed to have conversations about what that day has meant for our society, has meant to all those who lost loved ones and to those who have been unfairly persecuted after the attacks. For a campus that is politically dynamic and often engages in activism, this could have been a moment to talk about the impacts stemming from that day. Some will likely say that the best way to honor the victims of 9/11 is to continue to go about our lives. I agree, but for a campus about learning and dealing with political realities, shouldn’t we talk about 9/11 and everything that it caused? I believe the best way to memorialize people is to remember them and keep them in our hearts by talking about the transformation our society endured after the attacks.

It doesn’t seem like too much to ask to have conversations led on campus about this for one day each year. Considering the massive impact 9/11 had, I would argue that one day isn’t nearly enough time for our community and for our country to grapple with the trauma that this day caused. We could have speakers here ranging from politicians to heroic first responders and activists against hate. But we don’t. It’s worth reflecting on what we have and haven’t done to memorialize the lives lost on 9/11 and the ways in which we as a community respond to the aftermath. For everyone enrolled in the College, their lives have been governed by this moment. War, increased security and swelling islamophobia have all become our new normal, yet we didn’t capitalize on an opportunity to talk about why. We should memorialize the lives lost, and reflect on the wide ranging impacts stemming from that day. We should do this because it is not just my life that was changed forever on September 11, 2001, but everyone’s. 

Michael Gibson-Prugh ’22 is from  Providence, R.I.