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UNC student: 'Literature of 9/11' course sympathizes with terrorists

Posted August 31, 2015 10:41 p.m. EDT
Updated September 1, 2015 4:20 p.m. EDT

— A debate is brewing about a course that is being offered at the University of North Carolina.

It all started when freshman student Alec Dent wrote an article about a course called “Literature of 9/11” and claimed that the seminar course sympathizes with terrorists.

Dent said that he stands by what he wrote and believes that the seminar course offers a one-sided view of the September 11 attacks from the perspective of the terrorists. Since the article was published, Dent has received feedback from people who applaud him and some who say his article is way off-base.

UNC offers more than 80 seminar courses to its students but “Literature of 9/11” struck a chord with Dent. The course claims to explore a diverse number of themes related to the September 11 attacks, but for Dent it was not diverse enough.

“The class reading list is what first stuck out to me because it really got me thinking, is this a fair and balanced way of looking at the situation,” Dent said.

The freshman journalism major said that he looked at the reading list as well as the class syllabus before writing a piece for an online student publication called “The College Fix.”

Dent admits that he has not taken the class, nor has he read any of the books on the list, but he still felt the course was too one-sided.

“The more research I did into it, the more it seemed like the readings were sympathetic towards terrorism.”

UNC officials were not available for interviews and Professor Neel Ahuaj, who teaches the course, did not respond to emails. The university did release the following statement regarding the course:

For any student, part of the college experience is the opportunity to grow by learning about yourself and how you engage with and learn from those who have different points of view. Carolina's first-year seminar program is part of that growth. The University isn't forcing a set of beliefs on students; we're asking them to prepare for and engage in every lesson, debate and conversation, and share what they think. Carolina offers academic courses to challenge students - not to advocate one viewpoint over another.

The seminar program is voluntary and the students select the class they wish to attend. More than 80 seminar courses on a wide variety of topics were available to incoming freshman this semester. The ability to bring differing points of view goes beyond the classroom; each year, student organizations invite speakers representing their own platforms that, collectively, offer an array of diverse ideologies from the left and right that lead to intellectual debate and discovery.

Students who actually took the course, which has been offered by the university since 2010, offered opinions as well.

One former student left a comment on Dent’s article saying that he is a conservative through and through but strongly disagrees with Dent. He argued that the course was valuable and challenged his opinions and allowed him to explore the subject in a deeper way.

“I think it’s important to have our ideas challenged. I think that’s a part of education,” Dent said. “But at the same time, I think you have to give equal showing to both sides of the issue.”

A few people who commented on Dent’s article said that he can’t know for sure that the course is one-sided without ever taking it, but he says he has received thank you notes from family members of September 11 victims.

Dent says that he doesn’t want the class removed, perhaps just modified.