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For today’s college students, 9/11 has always been part of history

Twenty years ago, Nick Anderson's father worked at a bank in New York City.

Anderson recalls his father telling him what he experienced on 9/11, how he was in a building when he heard something happen, and watched as papers and pens drifted past the window. His father did not know what was happening until he saw it on the news.

The World Trade Center had been attacked.

Anderson, born in 2000 and now a student at Mitchell College, was only a baby when hijackers, linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network in the Middle East, crashed two planes into the twin towers, a third into the Pentagon in Virginia and a fourth into a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people. He is part of a whole generation that has always heard about 9/11 but never experienced it.

Related story: 9/11 commemoration events will be held around the region

The Day spoke to several college students, all of whom were too young or not yet born on 9/11. We asked them when was the first time they remember learning about it, whether they personally know anyone who was there, what impressions they have of that day and how they think it has impacted our nation.

Nathaniel Avery of Groton is 18 years old and attends Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He said he remembers being introduced to 9/11 in elementary school but did not learn more about it until he got older.

"At the time, I didn't think about it that much," said Avery, who thought about it only in a historical sense.

It wasn't until high school that he realized 9/11 wasn't so long ago, and while he was not alive to see it, he was alive to witness how that day has altered the nation. He said he has become more "socially aware" of events tied to 9/11, such as the establishment of federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, tensions between the United States and the Middle East and stereotypes placed on Middle Eastern people.

Others echoed Avery's response.

Kyle Anderson of Cromwell, who is studying criminal justice at Mitchell College, said he grew up hearing about 9/11 from his family and at school. His older brother went into the military, and he has family members who knew people who died on 9/11.

Kyle Anderson said he learned in class that the Department of Homeland Security, founded in 2002, was created as a response to 9/11.

"Overall, it helps us as a country to be united and protected," he said.

Matt Driscoll of Waterford, who is 21 and studies business and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University, said the Afghanistan withdrawal appears to mark the end of the War on Terror.

However, he said, the fallout from 9/11 remains prevalent in all of our lives.

"We still have to take off our shoes at the airport," Driscoll said. He referred to laws that boosted government surveillance in the wake of the attacks, and the unpopular holding facility for suspected terrorists in Cuba: "The Patriot Act has been renewed with bipartisan support by four different administrations, whistleblowers and journalists are prosecuted, Guantanamo Bay is still in operation, and our vets return to a country that at best was disinterested in their plights."

Many students said the events from 9/11 led to a rise in discrimination against people of color, Middle Eastern people and Muslims.

Molly Steel-Miller of Salem, Ore., who is studying health sciences at Mitchell College, was born on Sept. 15, 2001. She said her parents were on one of the first flights after 9/11.

Steel-Miller said harsher search routines are done to people of color at airports. On her trip to Connecticut for the fall semester, she said TSA checked her coarse black hair.

"Obviously what happened was terrible. Lots of people lost their lives, but I don't think it is fair to take it out on other individuals that have no connection or shared beliefs by those who did it," she said. "We need to think before we speak."

Nick Anderson said he grew up in a "mono-culture" town, hearing negative comments directed toward people of color. "I feel like we could've gone a different way of explaining it to people so that they wouldn't group the whole Middle East as the ones who did it," he said. "It was a group that did it."

Regardless of not experiencing 9/11 like their parents did, all the students said they sympathized with those directly affected and share in their grief.

"Twenty years feels like it's been a very long time," said Ben Logel of Pawtucket, R.I., who is 21 and studies environmental science at Mitchell. He said he does not personally know anyone directly affected by 9/11 but still is saddened by it.

"All we need to do is give our love, respects, and pray for family and friends that have lost someone there," he said.

"My heart breaks for those thousands of families that have to walk by now-empty bedrooms and have lasting scars as a result of 9/11 and our response," Driscoll said.

Jacob Faigel's father had co-workers who were on one of the hijacked flights. Faigel is 18 and from Natick, Mass. He studies business management at Mitchell.

"It's a day no one wished would've happened."

j.vazquez@theday.com

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