Following controversy, UNC to host 9/11 memorial exhibit

The University of North Carolina has agreed to host a mobile 9/11 exhibit on campus next week to contrast with a course that portrays the day’s events from the terrorists’ perspectives.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, named in honor of a firefighter who died while responding to the World Trade Center attacks, announced in a press release that it has received permission to bring its mobile “9/11 Never Forget Exhibit” to UNC’s Chapel Hill campus on Tuesday, September 22.

“The purpose of the 9/11 Mobile Exhibit is to remind Americans about the heroic efforts of first responders the day we were attacked, and to educate schoolchildren who were either very young, or not yet born in 2001, about the attacks,” the Foundation said.

Following an opening ceremony at 11:00 a.m., the exhibit—which contains steel and other artifacts from the World Trade Center as well as depictions of the first attack on the Twin Towers in February, 1993—will be open to students and the public for the remainder of the day. Tours of the exhibit will be led by FDNY Battalion Chief (Ret.) Jack Oehm, whose battalion lost about a third of its firefighters on 9/11.

According to the press release, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt gave the organization permission to display the exhibit “following a controversy that drew national attention after she received a letter from UNC student Frank Pray—who's chairman of the UNC Republicans—voicing his displeasure about a seminar UNC was offering to undergraduates.”

The freshman-level class, called “Literature of 9/11” and taught by English professor Neel Ahuja, has faced criticism regarding its reading assignments. Most of the required readings portray the day’s events from the perspectives of the terrorists, The College Fix reports, while none examine the attacks from the viewpoints of the victims.

“Our concern over the 'Literature of 9/11' course and its one-sided portrayal of the perspectives surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks has not abated,” Pray wrote in his letter. “We continue to feel that this class is not even-handed scholarship and therefore cannot claim to truly be educating students about this issue, but rather indoctrinating them with a viewpoint that paints this nation in a negative light and is sympathetic to the terrorists' perspectives.”

Frank Siller, Stephen’s brother and the Chairman and CEO of Tunnel to Towers, described the exhibit as a necessary contrast to the controversial course, pointing out that most contemporary college students are too young to have personal memories of 9/11, making them vulnerable to revisionist history.

“While we appreciate the opportunity Chancellor Folt is giving us to educate students about what happened on 9/11—from members of the FDNY who were actual eyewitnesses to history that day—we were outraged to learn that a course was being taught at UNC that focused primarily on the perspective of those who perpetrated this barbaric act,” Siller said.

“We cannot ignore the fact that the UNC students taking this course were far too young on September 11, 2001 to know about—or truly understand—the horror of that day,” he added. “Now our 9/11 mobile exhibit will be able to offer these students a balanced picture of what happened from someone who lost a firefighter brother, like I did, and FDNY members who were actually at Ground Zero.”

Jim Gregory, Director of Media Relations at UNC, told Campus Reform that the decision to approve the exhibit was not influenced by the fallout over the 9/11 course, but rather was based on the university’s determination that the exhibit is “a worthwhile endeavor” after it was requested by the school’s College Republicans group.

“I think it would be inaccurate to say that this was weighed against the recent news about the ‘Literature of 9/11’ course,” Gregory explained. “This is a request made by one of our student organizations … and when a student organization makes a request, we tend to make decisions based on the merits.”

Speaking both for the university and for himself as a veteran, Gregory added that, “[t]his [exhibit] is a way for us to honor Americans who were killed on 9/11, and it would have been great to have it here on 9/11,” though he pointed out that UNC did commemorate the anniversary in other ways, including an American flag display on the academic mall and an ROTC event at the football stadium in which participants ran up and down the stadium steps to honor first responders.

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