9/11 Cannot be Business as Usual

I don’t have any memory of the attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. I was one year old, fast asleep in my crib in northern New Jersey. My parents got the rest of the day off from work, which, on any other occasion, would have been cause for celebration. Instead, they were huddled around the TV, watching the skyline they had always taken for granted on their daily commute get swallowed by clouds of smoke. I don’t have any recollection of this.

And yet each year when Sept. 11 rolls around, I still know there’s something to be remembered.

Growing up in New Jersey in the wake of the 9/11 attacks meant a couple of things. It meant that I had friends who had lost or almost lost a relative that day. It meant having school-wide assemblies to commemorate the events. It meant that throughout my childhood, I was developing a connection to a day to which I had no tangible relationship. As I got older, I started to process what happened outside of my crib.

Throughout my childhood, it was accepted that Sept. 11 came with a certain gravity. I assumed that emotional force was felt universally. College has challenged that assumption.

Last Wednesday, I didn’t hear a mention of 9/11 until mid-afternoon. There was no email from President Biddy Martin’s office. The Amherst Instagram didn’t do a remembrance photo. There was nearly nothing.

I asked my friends at other schools if there were any initiatives of commemoration. A friend at George Washington University said the administration emailed to request a moment of silence, but it wasn’t enforced. A friend at Bucknell University reported that students had lined the quad with American flags. The effort was there, but they all agreed that 9/11 didn’t seem to carry as much weight in college.

Maybe it’s natural. After all, as much as it may feel like everyone at Amherst is either from New York or New Jersey, that’s not actually the case. Of course, I realize that my geographic proximity to the site of the attacks intensified my obligation to commemorate it. I also realize that it’s been nearly two decades. A lot has happened since 2001. In many ways — though some of the affected families may beg to differ — the country has exited the grieving period.

However, it still feels off to wake up on Sept. 11 and treat it like any other day. Not just off, fundamentally abnormal.

Even if it was 18 years ago, we’re still living in the aftermath of these attacks. I’m not just talking about longer airport security lines. The post-9/11 era is a different world. Sept. 11 created a context for the rise of Islamophobia. It turned U.S. national security into a hyper-militarized machine. As Omer Aziz of The New York Times puts it, Sept. 11 created “endless secret wars, waged in the cover of night, in distant places where the victims are invisible.”

So maybe the country no longer needs to be in deep mourning — though the victims of the attacks will still be in my thoughts on Sept. 11. Still, treating 9/11 like business as usual simply doesn’t make sense.

As time goes on, the way we commemorate the day may change. Instead of moments of silence, maybe we need deliberate conversation about the impacts of 9/11. We cannot let the significance of the day get lost. Even if we’re not right next door to the World Trade Center, we cannot normalize a day like 9/11 by not talking about it. If there isn’t an acknowledgement of these attacks, the college risks forgetting history. And when we forget history, we lose the lessons that come with it.