Sept. 21-27, 2001
Back Issues
University community comes together
Forum focuses on Middle East
Memorial photos

Students share in nation's sorrow

Professors find a teachable moment in terrorism
Ethics & society talks
Institute makes a practice of ethics

Professors find a teachable moment in terrorism

By Matt Kelly

The attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center provided teachers throughout the University with a challenge and an opportunity — how to draw lessons from the devastation. University President John T. Casteen III urged professors to take the time to discuss current events on spiritual, emotional and ethical levels.

History professor Phyllis Leffler’s history and interpretation class was meeting at the U.Va. Art Museum. She told the students business as usual would not be appropriate. The class had been planning to look at the art of author John Dos Passos, who was alienated from capitalism in the 1920s and 1930s and worked this out through literature and art. She suggested the students take advantage of the quietness of the museum to work out some of their own feelings.

Leffler has a sense that many students had no way of coping with the impact of the attack. “Some students haven’t grasped the magntitude of events,” she said. “They can look at [the art] and see what it says about western civilization and values.”
Leffler was not the only one to turn to the arts. Casteen cited poet John Donne in a letter to the University, and poems were read at the U-Hall ceremony to mark the national day of prayer service.

“These artifacts achieve a kind of universality,” Casteen said later of art and literature. “That is, sometimes they become unifying and true statements that we can all own. I doubt that this experience of the universal truth belongs only to people in times of trauma or only to members of academic communities.”

Casteen, in addressing the University community Sept. 14 at University Hall, said the response of the University community has been a vote for life.

“This has been the message of the vigils, the teach-ins, the quiet discussions in classrooms, and offices, and dormitories, and libraries, and laboratories and hospital corridors throughout these days when we have together felt the agony of those lives now extinguished and their surviving families and colleagues and friends and neighbors,” he said.

Psychology teacher Angeline Lillard talked with students taking childhood development about the attack, using it to talk about how children cope with difficult circumstances.

She said when people go through a tragedy, some bottle up their feelings and others need to acknowledge them. She used her children as an example, telling students that her nine-year-old daughter is now saying she does not ever want to fly and is concerned that an airplane will strike their house, while her seven-year-old daughter is into problem-solving, coming up with ways to prevent air hijacks.

James Childress, Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Religious Studies, was holding a seminar on “Social and Political Thought on War.” He opened the class with a moment of silence and then had students look through the class materials, mostly historical and theological texts, for insights into the attack. Childress said the discussion of war seemed more real with the images of devastation that came across the television.

“The sight of destruction can be so awesome,” said Childress, who added that the details of this attack will probably become part of future classes.

Asian and Middle Eastern Language professor Mohammed Sawaie, a Jordanian who teaches Arabic, said his fourth-year Arabic class discussed the attack and linked it to issues in the Middle East. He offered an opportunity for his students in beginning Arabic, many of them of Arabic and Muslim backgrounds, to discuss the situation, but he said they declined.

Sawaie had his advanced students speak in Arabic. “They learned new words,” he said, noting that students were “stunned” by the events of the day. “They had a sober, rational discussion that helped them understand.”

He said he has talked with students who felt like they were being accused, such as a first-year Palestinian student who thought all the people on the bus were looking at her when she boarded. Sawaie said he tried to allay their fears and advise them not to be over-sensitive to people’s reactions.


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of the University of Virginia

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