This Side of Theory

Student Affairs Reflections and Musings

Content Instead of Context

I’d intended to write my own reflections on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Instead I found myself caught up editing other people’s far more articulate words, and emotionally exhausted from reading so many personal stories. My story isn’t unique or even compelling — I was a senior in college, working at campus police on that Tuesday morning. I spent the rest of the day in classrooms, my friends’ dorm rooms and in my own living room with my roommates, but I mostly spent that day surrounded by people when what I wanted was to be alone.

For the past ten years, I’ve avoided watching the images of 9/11, though they remain vivid in my mind. I personally gain nothing from repeated viewing of the second plane hitting the building while a stunned nation watched or clicking through digital albums of horrified onlookers frozen in time.

Earlier today I tweeted, “I care less about where people were ten years ago and more about who they’ve become since. Geography is context; show me content.” I was challenged both publicly and privately on the belief, but I stand firm in believing that what came next is more important than where I was.

So to answer my own challenge, here’s my content:

Over the past ten years, I’ve become more aware of issues related to social justice and globalism. Always an avid consumer of the news, I’ve become a better consumer of international news than I was before, even as a journalism student. I believe in the power of risk management and emergency preparedness on college campuses. I am a better member of my community because I pay more attention to what’s happened around me. I’ve forced myself to challenge my own beliefs of other cultures, including extremist beliefs, and learn more about them. I give more respect to my mind’s signals that I need to be alone to process a situation. I am more open to changing as a result of external influences.


What’s your content? Don’t tell me where you were — tell me how you’ve changed and who you’ve become since.




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  • Tom Krieglstein

    Challenge accepted…Expect I was a Junior in college at the time and with our with/out 9/11 I’ve changed A TON. The challenge is I don’t think I can parse out what is due to 9/11 and what is due to just growing up. I think if I could parse out a few things they would be that…

    1) My patience for news media to over hype everything like it’s the next 9/11 is small.
    2) I defend Muslims more than before because, just like the rest of the world 99.99% aren’t out to kill people.
    3) I’m more data driven. I know 9/11 was horrible, but I also know my odds of getting killed while walking down the street to pick up a bagel are much worse.

  • Karen O’Neill

    My challenge to context vs content is this: and I say this in the spirit of a lively, and hopefully fruitful exchange of perspectives. For me, context is very important. I heard about the first plane hitting the tower while I was pulling into the parking lot of my children’s school for a parent teacher conference. The context and geographic location says it all. I could no longer parent in the same way with the same assumptions. The attack on our soil, and more importantly, the geo political implications became immediately and overwhelmingly apparent. I needed to make incredibly profound changes to my parenting style. I just didn’t know exactly what that meant at that point in time. Likewise, for survivors of that day, many are alive today because of their context. Some decided randomly to get coffee and bagels and thus were late for work. Some missed their train, or were home sick or taking a day off. Those that escaped the horror for seemingly “random” or “lucky” reasons have spent countless hours questioning ideas of fate, religion, survivor’s guilt, and many other existential queries. Where we are today is important (content). However, I firmly believe that the context of our experience is the entry point from which we began the journey of processing, growing, and learning from the terrible events of that day.

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