Whitman commemorates 9/11 through film showing

Heather Nichols-Haining

This Sep. 11, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Religion and General Studies Roger Miles and Assistant Professor of Religion Melissa Wilcox opted to commemorate the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in a new way. As President Bush was observing a moment of silence and Senators McCain and Obama were placing flowers on a memorial at Ground Zero, Whitman students were watching a movie.

After Sep. 11, 2001, reports of hate crimes and discrimination towards Sikhs prompted then-20-year-old Stanford student Valarie Kaur to travel around the United States and document the incidences of violence. She produced the first feature-length documentary on post-Sep. 11 hate violence, entitled Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath.

“I think this is just another way of reflecting on Sep. 11,” said Wilcox.

The movie touched on themes of identity and the process of othering racial minorities.

“In times of insecurity, like 9/11, we try to find some sort of uniformity – but mistaking unity for uniformity is dangerous,” said Miles.

The documentary encouraged viewers to unify without excluding Sikhs and Muslims. It depicted accounts of American Sikhs who showed their support for the country, but were still discriminated against, sometimes to the point of violence.

Kaur challenged viewers, asking questions such as, “Who counts as American?” and “What does an enemy look like?” She traveled around the country, and even spoke with a woman in India to answer these questions. “The heart of America is found in the spaces where people have come together, for just a moment, and left a trace,” said Kaur in the movie.

The movie had a strong impact on students.

“It felt very personal,” said sophomore Tristan Grau. “I’ve never really been discriminated against like they were, but I had a strong reaction because the sense was that the only people who would cover this issue are two college student amateurs.”

The film has reached over 150 campuses across the nation and won numerous national and international awards.

“I really admire the filmmakers. Valarie jumped and her life took its own direction. She’s lived a life of meaning and I admire that,” said Miles.

The documentary has been hailed around the country for encouraging introspection and discussion of its viewers on race, discrimination and identity.