Students' Book Commemorates September 11thUniversity of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Associate Professor of Sociology
Dr. Thom Curtis is a man drawn to disaster. The associate professor of sociology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo says, only half-jokingly, that he is attracted to the Big Island because it is the "best natural disaster area in the U.S."
Curtis, a licensed marriage and family counselor, has researched sociological and psychological responses to disaster. He was called to New York City by the American Red Cross to help with the counseling of the survivors of the September 11 disaster.
After his return to UH Hilo, he came up with a novel project for his senior seminar class on family violence. The class would interview prominent people from around the State to get their takes on September 11, its aftermath and effect on Hawai'i. The result is a book titled "Hawai'i Remembers September 11," which is in the final stages of publication. Curtis is credited as the editor; students participating are credited for interviewing and writing the segments on their interviewees.
"I try to keep all my classes as topical and current as possible," Curtis said. "The class started last January, just three months after September 11. I felt it was important as senior sociologists that we take some time with the events that took place then."
As topical as September 11 is and as important as Curtis' work counseling those most directly affected by the disaster, perhaps this book would on the surface seem outside the scope of a class on family violence.
"My research has shown that there are really close parallels between people who perpetrate violence in families and terrorists," he said. "And as you look at the characteristics and attributes of either domestic or international terrorists, both sociologically and psychologically, there are a lot of similarities.
"There are a lot of frustrations involved, usually, over circumstances that individuals feel that they are not able to control themselves. But there are demographic types of similarities, as well, in terms of socioeconomics and in terms of opportunities for education," he added.
Those interviewed for Hawai'i Remembers September 11 include U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, U.S. Representatives Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie, Governor Ben Cayetano, First Lady Vicky Cayetano, UH President Evan S. Dobelle and his wife Kit Dobelle, UH Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng (who also wrote the foreword), State Senators David Matsuura and Fred Hemmings, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, Maui Mayor Kimo Apana, Hawai'i County Councilman
Aaron Chung, Chef Sam Choy and former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Onan Masaoka, to name a few.
"There were basically three questions that we attempted to have
interviewees address," Curtis said. "The first question was, 'Where were you, what were you doing and what were your initial reactions to the attacks?' The second was, 'How do you think Hawai'i was impacted?' And the third was, 'How do you think Hawai'i will be impacted in the future?'"
UH President Dobelle found himself seeking a practical way for the University to contribute to the State's economic recovery.
"Your first reactions, as a human being, are so strong, so emotional, that you want to grab a shovel and get on a plane," Dobelle said. "And then as the hours pass, you realize that your challenge is to act out of who and where you are. For us, that meant establishing a tuition waiver to help any student who had lost a job as a result of the economic downturn the attacks caused in Hawaiʻi.
"In the face of so much pain, so much tragedy, 'tuition waiver' seems such a technical term, but it came out of who we are," he added. "That was what we could do to help people, and in the end it made a difference for a many of our students."
UH Hilo Chancellor Tseng pointed to the concern and compassion of UH Hilo students.
"Our UH Hilo Student Association took the initiative and provided positive influence and leadership by organizing several events, including a candlelight vigil for peace around the world," she said. "I am very proud of our students and faculty who helped each other to get through this difficult period."
Governor Cayetano said that the attacks drove home the oft-made point that Hawai'i is economically overdependent on the visitor industry.
"Diversifying our economy will strengthen it and make it less vulnerable to the ups and downs of tourism," he said. "Over the past seven years we have focused on healthcare, biotechnology and high technology."
And in the spirit of togetherness and cooperation that came followed the tragedy, the Democrat governor briefly put aside partisan politics to praise the nation's Republican Commander-In-Chief.
"President Bush's display of wise and courageous leadership exceeded my expectations," he said.
Curtis said that the students who participated in the writing of "Hawai'i Remembers September 11" will find it an invaluable experience.
"They worked hard to make this book happen," he said. "Many will go on to graduate school and this research and publishing experience will serve them well. It's also something that I believe will be a good thing for UH Hilo."