Batten Students Share How 9/11 Has Influenced Their Lives

Tribute in Light in New York City.
Tribute in Light, a commemorative public art installation in New York City.

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, most college-aged students have little to no firsthand memory of Sept. 11, 2001, as they were either very young or not yet born.

However, many students still recognize the lasting impact of the attacks on a personal and national level. From the classroom to their neighborhoods to their future jobs, 9/11 had transformed almost every sphere of the America they grew up in.

Batten student Jane Frankel (BA '22) and alum Matt Gillam (BA '21) share their impressions of 9/11 and its lasting influences.

Jane Frankel: New Yorkers’ Resilience, Then and Now

Jane Frankel: New Yorkers’ Resilience, Then and Now
Batten student Jane Frankel (BA '22). (Contributed Photo)

Jane Frankel is a rising fourth-year student in the Batten School and a native New Yorker. Though she was only a year old when the attacks occurred, the legacy of 9/11 permeates her home city.

“I only really know life after 9/11, but it was definitely something that was a part of our vernacular and a topic of conversation with other kids growing up,” Frankel said. “Everyone in New York has a story about where they were that day. I could tell you where all my friends were and their families’ stories in relation to Sept. 11.”  

As a child, Frankel remembers learning about 9/11 in the classroom and gaining a deeper understanding of the event. 

“On Sept. 11, we would always have 11 minutes of silence, and then the teachers would take time to teach us about what happened, or we’d write letters to families and first responders,” Frankel said.

Every year on Sept. 11, Frankel notices a shift in the attitude of New York City. 

“I think on the anniversary, there’s always a somberness and even more unity. I don’t know how to describe it, because it’s something that’s just in the atmosphere. It feels like people take time to reflect on what it means to be a New Yorker,” Frankel said. 

The attacks brought a host of safety practices that Frankel finds reassuring. 

“When I think about feeling safe, like when I’m going to a concert or something, and my anxiety spikes about what could go wrong, I’m always like, ‘Well, New York City has some of the best security since 9/11, and we have so many precautions in place,’” she said. 

Reflecting on it, Frankel said the city’s resilience in the face of adversity – then and now – is inspiring.  

“Personally, I didn’t always know how much pride I had in being a New Yorker until I left New York, but this city is so resilient and has endured so much,” she said. “I think the fact that we’re able to recognize 9/11 every year and say that we’re not going anywhere is really powerful.

“Now, after the pandemic, people keep saying that New York’s gone or New York’s done, but I just think New York’s so tough, and to me, New York can never really be defeated or brought down.”

Matt Gillam: Sharing the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Matt Gillam: Sharing the 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Batten alum Matt Gillam (BA '21). (Contributed Photo)

May graduate Matt Gillam is the former Batten Undergraduate Council president and in 2018 interned at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site, where he worked in communications.

“The folks that are in our age bracket don’t remember Sept. 11, and I think the power of sharing history comes from the ability to tell narratives, so a lot of the exhibits in the 9/11 museum are really personal,” Gillam said.

“For example, there was an employee in the World Trade Center that would rollerblade to work every day, and their rollerblades were found in the wreckage and identified, and a plaque with that story is in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.”  

Individual stories humanize Sept. 11 for Americans who have no personal connection to the event or the day, he said. “When you walk through the museum, it tells not just the story of 9/11, but the story of the individuals, and I think that’s how we can connect folks to history, especially somebody who is not a New Yorker.”

At the end of his internship, Gillam presented a guide to enhance the workplace environment for 9/11 Memorial & Museum staffers.

“My final project was about company culture, and I drafted a book about the values of the museum, which focused on to the fact that everyday employees have to engage with death on such a large scale, and there were very few resources to unpack that,” he said. “I talked about how there should be free psychological services for staff members, more significant paid vacation time, and other things like that.”

In the Batten School, Gillam has also analyzed and learned the effects of 9/11 on federal and state laws and organization. 

“[The Department of] Homeland Security was founded after 9/11, and our orientation federally to national security policy fundamentally changed,” Gillam said. “It’s a totally different ballgame in a policy sense. It’s become a new academic field and a new practical field.” 

In the past decade, technology designed to protect Americans from another terrorist attack has been the source of many policy conversations. 

“So many of the debates we have right now about privacy issues and data privacy can be linked directly to 9/11,” Gillam said. “The Patriot Act was passed in the wake of 9/11 and essentially gave, at some level, unrestricted access to our personal data, and that can’t be disentangled from the issues with big tech,” such as Facebook or Twitter.

These are debates Gillam will carry with him as he goes to work for Teach for America in Washington, D.C., and, he hopes, as he pursues an eventual career in politics. He plans to have several conversations with his students about the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

“I think the beauty of teaching in D.C. is that you can ground events in physical places, which is especially important for elementary school students,” Gillam said. “Additionally, the 9/11 memorial itself has a huge education department with fascinating work, and so I’ll definitely engage with some of their resources and videos as well.”

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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