"There is no doubt that current undergraduate Psi Chi members will one day be the research scholars who shed new light on many topics that pertain directly to the attacks on September 11. I should also note that Psi Chi members will be the teaching scholars who help the new generation of undergraduates understand how psychology can help us combat terrorism and understand the social and political contexts that lead to it. Further, Psi Chi members will be some of the clinicians who help families and individuals cope with the suffering associated with the war on terrorism."
My father, a World War II veteran, can remember vividly where he was and what he was doing when he first heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I asked about it when I called him on September 12, 2001. On December 7, 60 years ago, was stepping off train in New Jersey after a weekend of visiting his grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Brooklyn, N.Y. As he exited train, he remembers a newsman "hawking the Daily News and shouting, 'Read all about it. . . . Pearl Harbor bombed." At the time, Dad didn't know where Pearl Harbor was located. He was 17 years old, and, in less than two years, he was in the Navy and stationed overseas, leaving behind his sister and widowed mother in Jersey City.
When I called my father on September 12 to talk about Pearl Harbor, I was trying to make sense of my experience of what happened the day before. And you, like my father and many in his generation, will one day talk to your children, grandchildren, or other relatives about your experiences on September 11, 2001. The details of that day may fade and, from what we know about memory, morph from one form into another as they are embellished and reworked with time.
Why have I selected this topic for my Presidential Message in this issue of Eye on Psi Chi? I've selected it in part because my thinking in recent months is often filtered through the lens of the terrorist attacks. But more importantly, I've chosen this topic because the discipline of psychology and the future careers of Psi Chi members relate closely to the issues this tragedy has raised.
The events of September 11 highlighted the diversity of our academic discipline. For example, I imagine the response of my university was similar to colleges and universities around the country. By late morning on September 11, our Office of Student Affairs was mobilizing to work with students who had family members affected by the attacks or with students who were emotionally upset by the events. In addition, the Psychology Department was contacted to work with Student Affairs to help. It is natural that people look to psychologists for assistance with mental health issues. After all, one facet of psychology includes training in these types of assessments and interventions. But my department is like many others in that only a minority of the faculty is trained to deal with these issues. As is true in many psychology departments, what ties my department into a coherent whole is not a focus on mental health issues; it is an empirical approach to understanding psychological phenomena.
This emphasis on psychological science is at the heart of Psi Chi's mission. If you inspect Psi Chi's website, read this magazine carefully, or attend to the messages in the periodic Psi Chi Digest e-mails from the National Office, you cannot escape this fact! I encourage you to learn more about the newest programs that the Psi Chi National Council has approved, which reflect Psi Chi's commitment to supporting student research: (a) the NSF-REU Grants ($30,000 grant program), (b) the Summer Research Grants ($21,000 grant program), and (c) the Undergraduate Research Conference Grants ($10,000). All of these programs support you in your efforts to hone your research skills, with the aim of not only advancing the science of psychology but also of landing a good job or gaining admission to graduate school.
As you learn more about these programs, consider how one of your future research projects might relate to the September 11th attacks. I imagine that as our country moves ahead with understanding and derailing terrorist efforts, we will see an increase in studies related to this whole arena. There is no doubt that current undergraduate Psi Chi members will one day be the research scholars who shed new light on many topics that pertain directly to the attacks on September 11. I should also note that Psi Chi members will be the teaching scholars who help the new generation of undergraduates understand how psychology can help us combat terrorism and understand the social and political contexts that lead to it. Further, Psi Chi members will be some of the clinicians who help families and individuals cope with the suffering associated with the war on terrorism.
Regarding research scholarship, below I've highlighted some possible research questions Psi Chi members might ask. Keep in mind that you do not need access to terrorists or terrorist organizations to conduct research on processes relevant to terrorist ideology, terrorist behavior, or the impact of terrorist attacks or threats. At my institution, for instance, for research purposes we generally do not have access to clinical populations, such as persons who are depressed or who have an eating disorder. However, our students are able to investigate relevant processes in nonclinical samples of students. It is therefore possible to study a normal range of dysphoric mood or dieting behavior in samples of normal college students. The same principle applies as you think of research questions that might be relevant to the terrorist attacks. Here are a few examples:
- Are there ways to reduce ethnic and religious stereotyping in the wake of the September 11th events?
- What factors lead a person to behave altruistically or selflessly, as we saw during the events surrounding and following the attacks?
- What aspects of the situation put some students at risk for developing anxiety symptoms related to the terrorist attacks?
- What personal characteristics put some students at risk for developing these symptoms?
- Have the September 11th attacks affected student performance in the classroom?
- Is it possible to develop PTSD or have related symptoms by simply watching television accounts of the events?
- In a climate of justifiable anger and the desire to retaliate, what personal or situational factors make it more likely for someone to practice forgiveness?
- What personal or situational factors make people more or less likely to contribute to charitable causes?
- Does the construct of patriotism predict behaviors, such as giving blood or donating to charities?
At this point, you might be asking yourself if it seems adequate or appropriate to approach the September 11th tragedy with a purely empirical attitude and a list of research questions. Aren't there very real issues of human suffering that require a more immediate response to help alleviate this pain? The answer is most certainly a resounding "yes!" Like many of you, I have been moved by the spirit of compassion that we have seen in countless acts of selflessness or care for others in need.
As one way to respond with compassion, my Psi Chi chapter joined with others around the country by raising money to contribute to a charitable organization. Our chapter contributed to the United Way of New York City September 11th Fund (the toll-free number is 1-800-710-8002), a suggestion offered by Dr. Vincent Prohaska, the faculty advisor at Lehman College, CUNY, and the recipient of the 2001 Denmark National Faculty Advisor Award. At Dr. Prohaska's suggestion, Psi Chi identified contributing to this fund as one of this year's possible service projects. Your chapter may have found other ways to respond to these events.
If your chapter has not yet taken on a service project for the year, I encourage you to do so. Combining an empirical attitude with care and compassion seems like a powerful response to events like those of September 11, 2001.