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Conference Presentations

By Arnold “Skip” Isaacs

In recognition of the upcoming tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis at John Jay College of the City University of New York assembled an interdisciplinary group of scholars, educators, mental health professionals, writers and journalists for a conference on The World Trade Center Attack: Consequences and Perspectives for Children and Youth. The conference took place from July 20 to 22, 2011. The opening session was held at 7 World Trade Center, in a conference room overlooking the site where the North and South towers stood before the 9/11 attacks and where the new trade center and the memorial museum for the nearly 3,000 victims are being constructed. Subsequent sessions were held at John Jay College.

The accompanying posts are selected presentations from that conference. These are based on transcriptions of the conference sessions, edited for clarity and greater coherence and to avoid repetition or confusing or clumsy wording. In a few places, speakers’ points have been rearranged to make a more logical sequence of information and ideas.

Click on the titles to read the summaries of each presentation.

It Made Madness Come Out: A Father’s Story

Jacques Menasche, a New York-based writer, editor, and filmmaker, spoke at the opening session of ACIA’s “Children of 9-11″ conference. That session took place at 7 World Trade Center, which stands on Greenwich Street — the same street as the school Menasche’s son Emanuel was attending in 2001. The windows of the 10th-floor meeting room where Menasche spoke overlook Ground Zero.

Menasche, whose documentary film  “Brothers of Kabul” won Australia’s Walkley Award and was a finalist in the Rory Peck Award for Freelance Features, was a few blocks north of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, taking his then 6-year-old son to school. In early 2011 Menasche set out to interview the other members of Emanuel’s first-grade class and their parents about their memories of 9/11. The project was supported by the Dart Society, an organization of journalists concerned with covering violence and trauma, a video and other material from those interviews can be seen at www.dartsocietyreports.org.

On September 5, 2011, PBS Newshour broadcast a segment of the video. Click here to play The Class of 9/11.

The Youngest Victims: Bereaved Children After 9/11

Dr. Cynthia Pfeffer is professor of psychiatry and program director of the Childhood Bereavement Program at Weill Cornell Medical College.  Her clinical work, research, and teaching center on child development, anxiety, depression, suicidal behavior, and bereavement. At ACIA’s conference, she spoke about a major empirical study on children who lost a parent on 9/11.

Children in Grief: A Close-Up View

Donna Friedman is an adjunct associate professor at the New York University School of Social Work and deputy executive director of the Riverdale Mental Health Association, an outpatient mental health clinic in New York City.  She has been a therapist and researcher in the Mothers, Infants, and Young Children of September 11 program.

Children’s Health After 9/11: The Physical Effects

Dr. Sandro Cinti is Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan Medical School and the Veteran’s Affairs Ann Arbor Health System. A specialist in infectious diseases, he has had a long-standing involvement in preparations at the national, state and local level for responding to biodisasters such as pandemic influenza and bioterrorism.

Tragedy From a Different Perspective

In her novel Ask Me No Questions Marina Budhos tells a 9/11 story that is very different from the one most Americans would recognize. Her narrator, Nadira Hossain, is the younger of two teen-aged sisters in a Bangladeshi immigrant family living in New York but, like many in that community, without legal residence status. After 9/11, when immigrants from Muslim countries become the object of public fear and suspicion and greatly increased government scrutiny, their father is sent into detention as an illegal alien. The family’s life is upended — and with it, Nadira’s and her sister’s sense of who they are and where they belong. This story, Budhos told the ACIA conference, represents the “invisible” narrative of 9/11: the experience of Muslim teenagers, particularly Muslim girls, in the post-9/11 United States.

Ask Me No Questions  was named one of the year’s Best Books for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association, and also won the first James Cook Teen Book Award. Budhos’s other books include Tell Us We’re Home, The Professor of Light, House of Waiting, and Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers. Budhos is also associate professor of English and Asian Studies at William Paterson University.

A 3,000 Mile Shock Wave

Two decades before 9/11, Suzanne Silverstein founded the Psychological Trauma Center, which works through schools, principally with art therapy, to to help children who have undergone traumatic experiences. The center is based at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and is currently active in 27 schools throughout the Los Angeles area — most serving low-income and predominantly minority children. Typically, the children the program serves are troubled by events close to their homes or neighborhoods, usually acts of domestic or gang violence. But even if 9/11 was more distant it also reverberated in those children’s lives, Silverstein told ACIA’s conference:

ACIA Conferences

The Critical Incidents and Children conference was the third in a series of case-study meetings ACIA has organized as part of its effort to “to promote and disseminate scholarly research relating to the emergence, management and consequences of critical incidents.” Earlier conferences examined the aftermath of the 2007 shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech University and the effects of displacement on individuals and communities during and after Hurricane Katrina.  Case conferences and other ACIA activities are supported by the Dart Foundation.


Critical Incidents and Children

The Academic for Critical Incident Analysis annually hosts a conference, examining an important topic in critical incident analysis based on the perspectives and lessons learned from a particular incident. This year, in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, the Academy  selected the World Trade Center Attack as the case for study, examining the consequences and perspectives of the incident for children and youth. The conference participants examined the following topics:

  • The experiences of children who were in the immediate vicinity of the towers at the time of the attack;
  • The physical health and mental health consequences for New York City children and youth following the attack;
  • The presentation of the attack to children and youth in textbooks and instructional materials;
  • The presentation of the attack in literature intended for children and youth; and
  • Perspectives of children and youth expressed in their own art, performance and literature.


The Critical Incident Players: Five Scenes from a Disaster

The Critical Incident Players is a group of John Jay students and alumnae who have come into being as a conjunction of various forms of Forum Theatre, which is a means of problem-solving through theatrical improvisation.

This year, as the nation is commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Critical Incident Players will kick off their activities by addressing issues they are most qualified by virtue of their age group, as those who were children and teens during 9/11, the Virginia Tech Shootings, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian flooding, to address by constructing improvisations based on questions posed by professionals and scholars about how the citizenry, public administrators, and first responders interact under circumstances of crisis and the long-term impact of those responses.

The nature of the Critical Incident Players’ improvisations is to take the roles of various participants in Critical Incidents ranging from policy makers, first responders, journalists and victims and play out those characters’ behavior in structured scenarios. Through the process of improvisation and critical analysis the actors will play out the same scenarios again with different permutations of how the events play out, taking different approaches, exchanging roles, and taking audience suggestions to see what other decisions could have been made under the given circumstances.

As the raw materials for their first presentation of improvisations the Players will improvise five scenarios involving incidents experienced during the WTC events and address ethical and policy concerns described in Ned Benton’s “Ethical Challenges Inherent in Critical Incident Dynamics”