Sept. 11: Five Years Later at Sac State
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001 brought tragedy to America and a new perspective on the world for most Americans. At Sac State, the immediate aftermath led to a campuswide memorial convocation and numerous discussions and forums. Five years later, the terrorist attacks continue to prompt deep interest by students in issues ranging from Islamic culture to American foreign policy. In turn faculty, like their counterparts in other universities across the country, are teaching a broader array of classes and exploring new academic areas.
“Students wanted to know why Sept. 11 happened,” says David Zuckerman, professor of communication studies who teaches a popular course on intercultural communications. “‘What would cause people to plan and carry out such an attack?’ the students asked. They want to gain a better understanding of other cultures.”
At the same time, one of the University’s best tools for increasing global awareness—the presence of international students—has suffered in the years since Sept. 11. International student enrollment, especially from the Middle East, has taken a substantial dip. According to the Office of Global Education, the number of students on visas from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan has dropped by nearly 75 percent, falling from 62 students in spring 2002 to 16 in spring 2006.
To meet the growing interest by students in world issues, Sac State last fall began offering an interdisciplinary minor in Middle East and Islamic Studies, which covers topics such as Islamic civilization and government, and politics of the Middle East. Professors Afshin Marashi of History and Erin Stiles of Anthropology, who both joined the faculty in 2003 as the University was strengthening its teaching and scholarly work on Islamic studies, helped organize and now serve as coordinators ofthe program.
“Before last year, students had to petition to get a special minor in Middle East Studies,” says Marashi. “Both students and faculty worked together to get something more structured in place.” Marashi says he has also seen growing student interest in his classes on Islamic civilization and courses are often filled to capacity. And many students have worked with him on a project with teachers in Sacramento schools to introduce youngsters to Middle Easternhistory and culture.
Stiles, who teaches courses on introduction to Islam and Islamic culture, says she has noted a genuine interest from students. “I have been impressed by students here because they don’t come in with any prejudices or any preconceived notions about Islam,” she says. “I noticed that they have a real hunger for this knowledge and they want to expand their understanding.”
Ayad Al-Qazzaz, a sociology professor who for many years has taught a course on Middle Eastern societies and culture, has seen more students enroll in his classes as well and they bring with them differing ways of thinking. “I’ve had students in my class who said they were fundamentalist Christians and said they couldn’t understand the Islamic point of view and how anyone could think like that,” he says. “These classes are important in providing students a wider perspective of the world.”
The events of Sept. 11 also gave rise to Timothy Capron’s criminal justice class on terrorism and violence, which he says offers yet another mindset. The class is popular but students often tell him the subject matter is depressing. “They wish they did not have to know all of that bad stuff,” Capron says. “They are still in denial that we are in a war on terrorism and that people hate us.”
Other faculty have responded by altering their courses to reflect the attack and its implications. Government professor William Dorman’s course on American foreign policy after World War II used to be divided in two parts: the Cold War from 1945 to 1989 and the period following. He has since added the post 9-11 period as a thirdpart of the class. “After Sept. 11, 2001, almost overnight U.S. policy found a new and unwavering bearing— the ‘War on Terror’—one which over the past five years has mobilized American opinion and institutions almost to the same degree as did fear of the Soviet Union and nuclear war,” Dorman says.
And in the Department of Foreign Languages there is now much more interest in classes to learn Arabic, says Eva Aramouni, who teaches Arabic and French. Aramouni says elementary Arabic was first offered in fall 2003 to meet the demands of students interested in learning the language. “Since then we have decided to offer two more levels—a continuation of elementary Arabic and intermediate Arabic—and we are contemplating the possibility of offering a fourth called intermediate conversation,” Aramouni says.
In addition to changes in the classroom, the University has created the Iranian and Middle East Studies Center, under the direction of Bahman “Buzz” Fozouni, chair of the Government Department. The center, part of the University’s effort to increase the globalization of the curriculum, also aims to strengthen ties with the Iranian and Middle Eastern community in the Sacramento region.
- Ted DeAdwyler