Kamran Rastegar, as an assistant professor at Tufts University and director of the university's Arabic program, has thought a lot about Sept. 11—about how to teach it and about what it means to his students.
Currently conducting research in Lebanon, Rastegar provided Somerville Patch with some of his thoughts over email.
Question: As incoming freshmen were quite young when Sept. 11 happened, have you noticed a difference in their knowledge and attitudes about 9/11?
Answer: In my two years of teaching at Tufts my experience has been that 9/11 is clearly a touchstone date for students, one that marks an important change of some sort in the historical understanding they have of the United States and its place in the world.
Question: Have you talked about 9/11 in the classroom? How so? What has been the response from students?
Answer: Every year I teach a course on modern Arabic literature where we spend one session in the semester discussing Arab-American poets. I usually include a specific poem by the New York-based poet Suheir Hammad, which is called "First Writing Since" and which discusses her personal reaction to the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. She also performed the poem on the Broadway production of Def Poetry Jam, so they can also watch a video of her reading the poem. It usually is one of the readings that elicits the strongest—and often most positive—reactions from the students from those we read. It's clear that hearing the emotional toll that 9/11 took on a young Palestinian-American woman living in New York is something that resonates for Tufts students, and perhaps many of their generation.
Question: Has interest in 9/11 from students increased or decreased over the years?
Answer: I would say that students in the last couple of years have begun to view it more as a historical moment and perhaps in less emotional terms. But I'm certain the date continues to hold a variety of meanings, perhaps sometimes contradictory, for students, including very emotionally charged ones.