Then, Sunday night, they learned Osama bin Laden was dead.
Many of their classmates carpooled to the White House to celebrate. The university put out a press release, headlined “America’s Most Political Students React,” that spotlighted a student who checked in to “Post-Osama Bin Laden World” on Foursquare.
Jubilation broke out on dozens of other college campuses, too, and the celebrations stunned many and prompted some criticism.
“[N]o man's death is something to celebrate. No man's death is a party,” Iowa State University senior Pantelis Korovilas wrote in the Iowa State Daily on Tuesday, criticizing the celebrations.
Why did college students react the way they did? Were they just looking for an excuse to party during a stressful finals week — or are there deeper reasons?
The AU project, “Growing up in the shadow of 9/11,” offers some context. The undergraduate and graduate students in the class used social media to recruit more than 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29 from across the country to take an online survey.
Just over 70 percent of those surveyed said that Sept. 11 changed their lives. That number was higher in the Northeast, closer to the site of the attacks. Those surveyed were in elementary, middle or high school at the time, so their perceptions were greatly influenced by what teachers and parents told them, according to the report.
“We were just on the cusp,” said Lindsey Anderson, 21, a rising senior journalism major from Arizona who worked on the project. “We were old enough to remember, but we were young enough that we don’t remember a time when you could walk through airport security with your shoes on.”
Despite the impact of the attacks, more than 70 percent of those surveyed said they weren’t worried about another terrorist attack. And 83 percent said they weren’t hesitant to fly because of the attacks.
The attacks did prompt students to be more likely to follow the news, study foreign relations, learn foreign languages and be politically active, according to the survey.
As for the Sunday night celebrations, the two graduate students who led the project said they weren’t surprised.
“For 10 years, for as long as we can remember, we’ve been looking for this man. He’s the face of everything that happened that day,” said Cara Kelly, 24, who was the managing editor of the project.
“We have spent half of our lives in a time of war,”said Ashley Bright, 25, the project’s assignment editor. “This is the first victory, the first tangible victory.”
You can see the full project at www.growingup9-11.com.