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BPD Update Online, Fall 2001
September 11

I asked a number of BPDs around the country to respond to an invitation for reflection on the gragic terrorist bombings in washington and New York, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. Here are a series of responses, starting with my own, from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. - Ed.


September 11 bloomed cool, bright and clear in Minnesota, the perfect reflection of my mood that morning. My 8 AM social policy class was full of my favorite kind of students: dubious about the necessity of having to take the course, and completely oblivious to my bag of tricks designed to inject them with my passion for the subject. The morning's session ended with my cheery exhortation that students must take a momennt out of their busy lives to enjoy the glorious day. I then hopped in my car to drive to my office, feeling the kind of satisfied exhaustion actors must experience after an especially good performance. As I heard the unfolding events on the car radio, I initially concluded that I was listening to a special National Public Radio show, a la Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, about our nation's lack of preparedness for terrorist attack.

REality soon intervened. I am clear about the obligation our prefessional calling requires of us in times of disaster, but am more cautious about my obligation as an educator to intervene with my students. Students are not clients, and mixing the roles is an invitaiton to ethical disaster. But an obligation exists nonetheless to bring the world into the classroom, and failure to address this monumental tragedy leaves one open to credible accusations of callousness. What to do?

Out social work faculty huddled around a flickering TV and spoke of classroom strategies. One wise colleague who began her field instruciton class only an hour after the tragedy struck described her time with students. She gave a short impromptu lecture on crisis intervention theory, using the present unfolding disaster as a case example. She then suggested how the students in the class might be reacting, and solicited discussion of their feelings, giving suggestions for self-care and the care of loved ones. She addressed the importance of attention to the special needs of children for love and security at this time. She concluded the discussion by pointing out that return to routine is a coping strategy for crisis victims, and then continued with the scheduled business of the class.

I settled on giving a cautionary sermon in my afternoon class about the three R's we must consider during this time of trial. Rage is almost never a good reaction to a crisis, as it clouds our thinking. The desire for Revenge is a natural outgrowth of rage, and always exacts too high a toll on both the perpetrator and the victim. Finally, Racism emerges from the desire for revenge. We are not at war (if "war" is the proper term here) with any country or culture or religion. Twisted minds may try to cloak their deeds int eh name of Allah, but the vast majority of Muslims around the world decry this outrage against our country as evil. The Great Satan, it turns out, is within ourselves. The calming words of abraham Lincoln must be considered here: "Let us remember," he said, "that the South prays to the same God."

As thoughtful academics we are curious about juman behavior emerging from particular social environments. We must naturally ask ourselves about the social conditions that have fostered such vicious hate. Teh toughest questions, and so the questions most worth asking, have to do with our national culpability in this calamity. How does American foreigh policy perpetuate oppression? How can our nation best solve the vast inequalities we see around the world? International social policy is relatively new territory for many of us, but that will have to change, and soon, if social workers are to make progress on these questions. It turns out our own children's lives depend on it.

"Watch for the three R's: Rage, Revenge, and Racism."

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