Students, faculty reflect on post-9/11 world


Photo courtesy of the Playshop Theater

This poster for “Bikeman” references Flynn’s ride to the World Trade Center on 9/11. Performances are Sept. 10 – 12.

September 11, 2021 will mark exactly 20 years since 2,996 individuals lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 93 which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“I was just starting graduate school, so I have a very clear memory of that Tuesday,” said Reem Hilal, assistant professor of Arabic  at Allegheny College.

Hilal teaches a course called “Arab and Muslim Voices post-9/11,” which is, as the course description reads, “an investigation of Arab and Muslim literary and cultural responses to their position in the global community.”

“I remember being at work, and had initially heard about the first plane,” Hilal said. “But like a lot of people, I thought it was an unfortunate accident.”

Soon, though, the reality of what had occurred set in.

“There were two things that sort of made me pay attention quickly,” Hilal said. “One was my boss when I was leaving to go to classes, and he said something to the effect of, ‘People won’t understand,’ and I didn’t understand what that meant. Then when I went to my car, the radio, all the channels were broadcasting the same thing.”

To her, it became “very clear that something traumatic had just happened.”

Even the younger generations who have no memories of or had not been born when 9/11 occurred are still feeling  the aftermath of that fateful day. Jack Parker, ’22, is the president of the Reserve Officers Training Corps on campus. He has no personal experiences of 9/11, but it has always been an essential part of his life.

“Personally, and this is more of a thing that I grew up doing with my dad, every 9/11, or the weekend of, I do a stair climb, “ Parker said. “1,083 steps, I believe.”

Parker’s father is a firefighter, and 9/11 in their household has always been an event to remember.

“An inclination to serve and to utilize the strengths that I have for service, as opposed to personal gain, is something that spurred my decision to contract with the army,” Parker said.

Every year on 9/11, ROTC holds a commemorative flag raising and 21 gun salute to honor the fallen.

After the attacks, there was a definitive switch in how Americans treated Arabs and Muslims. Hilal talked of the hatred being expressed toward these communities.

“Documentaries of the FBI in 2002, I think, said that the hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims went up 1600%,” Hilal said.

In addition to this, these hate crimes have continued in an upwards trend, and these communities have continuously endured an immense amount of discrimmination due to prejudices that arose from 9/11. Despite the fact that many Arabs and Muslims are victims of terrorism, they are the ones who are feared.

“9/11 cemented this discourse around these communities, but it didn’t weaken it,” Hilal said.

Between Sept. 10 and 12,  there will be a theatrical presentation of “Bikeman,” the candid and surreal poems written by Thomas Flynn, a former CBS producer who covered the attacks as they happened.

After the first plane hit, Flynn “rode his bicycle down to the World Trade Center to begin filing reports,” Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Mark Cosdon said. “Then when the first tower collapsed, he ran with another handful of people and got trapped for some time in an underground parking garage as the debris piled up in front and they could not get out.”

Cosdon will be directing Allegheny’s take on “Bikeman’’. The last time “Bikeman” was performed was in 2013, and now with the 20th anniversary of the attacks occurring, Cosdon thought it would be an ideal time to revisit and commemorate Flynn’s work. Cosdon also noted that on the 11th and 12th, there will be a talkback with Flynn, where students can engage in conversation with the writer and ask questions.

The college will also be holding a vigil on Saturday, Sept. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to noon in the Senior Circle.