Aboard the ARC
Remembering Those
  We Lost




Cover Story

By Laura Butchy

As Scott Koonin '02 walked around campus on September 11, shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania, everyone he met expressed the same desire: to do something. Many students volunteered to help in the rescue effort; some collected supplies and transported them to Ground Zero; others joined growing lines to donate blood.

Worn out by watching the television coverage of the disaster, Koonin and other campus leaders decided that students would benefit from an opportunity to congregate and express their feelings. "Everyone wanted to come together as a community to show our unity," he said. "We were all going through this together." So they arranged for permission to assemble on the Low Library steps for a candlelight vigil that night.

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"The organizers initially bought about 300 candles, because no one knew how many people would come," said Alison Hirsh '02. But as word of the vigil spread, more and more people showed up, and organizers were sent scurrying to local stores. Soon virtually every candle in Morningside Heights was illuminating the steps and Alma Mater.

About 3,500 students, faculty and staff gathered from midnight until after 3 a.m. for a somber but comforting vigil. After remarks from organizers explaining the gathering, the "floor" was opened up. Some told of being downtown at the time of the attacks, others expressed concern for family and friends, and some simply offered thoughts on the day's events. The size of the crowd surprised Koonin because of how quickly the vigil had been organized.

"Being surrounded by so many of my friends was the most supportive thing," Koonin said.

Within an hour of the attacks, University President George Rupp convened a crisis management group that included school deans and other administration leaders. In e-mail and voice mail to the Columbia community, Rupp said that while Tuesday classes were cancelled, faculty and staff would be available throughout the day to students who needed support.

"We anticipate that all students will draw on their own informal support networks at this time," Rupp said in his e-mail. "In addition, residential life counselors and members of the deans' offices and many other administrators will be available to work with students. The chaplain and staff from our campus ministries also will be available to assist students in St. Paul's Chapel and Earl Hall. We will work as hard as we can to help each other through this very trying time."

As students coped with the shock of the devastation only seven miles south of the Morningside Heights campus, they were urged to let family and friends know they were safe, primarily via e-mail due to telephone disruptions. The Office of Student Services immediately established an information tent on Low Plaza to direct students, staff and faculty to counseling, emergency accommodations and volunteer opportunities. That night, University Chaplain Rev. Jewelnel Davis held the first of several remembrance services at St. Paul's Chapel.

University Web pages, publications and e-mails kept students updated as the week progressed, providing phone numbers for emergency hotlines, missing persons information and connections to volunteer organizations.

Checking In Website

To keep alumni informed about their classmates and the College's response, Dean Austin Quigley sent a letter to all College alumni, and the College established a Web page for sharing news. More than 3,000 alumni used this "Checking In," to inform classmates that they or another classmate were safe.

"The pain is deep, but community bonds are only getting stronger in the face of a national crisis of which New York City is bearing the brunt," Quigley wrote to alumni on September 20. "You would all be proud of our students, at their compassion for the victims and their families, their refusal to be intimidated by the new circumstances we all face and by their reaffirmation of our shared values and shared bonds." Students participated in residence hall meetings, Quigley reported, as well as an informal meeting with the dean and other officers of the College and University.

Classes resumed on Wednesday, September 12, though many extracurricular events, including weekend athletic events, were cancelled or postponed. With the campus on security alert, most students made their way to class hoping for a routine as normal as circumstances would allow.

"I found that going back to class on Wednesday, while difficult, was very therapeutic," Hirsh said. Like most classes, her religion class had a new focus, shifting to analyze the recent events in context.

A history major, Koonin expressed similar sentiments about his classes, where discussions ranged from an open forum to talk about the attacks to a comparison of current attitudes to those preceding World War I. "It was very helpful to have some structure instead of sitting around watching TV," Koonin emphasized.

Meanwhile, counseling and psychological services and the Health Sciences Web site offered stress management information.

"Every one of us is directly affected," said Dr. Richard Eichler, director of psychological counseling at the campus Health Service. While many students found comfort in the community of friends, others needed time alone and still others rebounded by throwing themselves back into their work or by volunteering. Individual counseling was available for students who lost loved ones or for those who witnessed the attack first hand. Eichler and his staff also reached out to students in residence halls with the help of RAs and group counseling programs. Counseling and Psychological Services also met with faculty and staff members as needed.

An ecumenical service of prayer and remembrance was held at St. Paul's Chapel on Friday, September 14, the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Addressing the many students and staff members at the interfaith service, Rupp offered condolences for those who suffered losses in the attacks and affirmed the need for mutual support within a diverse community.

"At precisely the time when the march of events threatens to drive us apart and turn us against each other, we must come together," Rupp said. "Let us hold fast to our ideals of inclusiveness and mutual support; let us reach out to each other across the lines of our differences; let us join our hearts and hands as we unite in the urgent work of rebuilding that we must undertake together."

As of press time, Columbia mourned the loss of 39 individuals who had studied at the University and were dead or missing in the attacks, including eight College alumni. On November 15, Columbians were scheduled to gather in Roone Arledge Auditorium for a remembrance service at which the names of victims affiliated with the University — including alumni, former staff members and family and friends of those who work and attend Columbia — were to be recited.

Reaching out
Even in the shock of the attacks, members of the Columbia community already were thinking about how they could help. Licensed students volunteered to take blood, and medical students worked at triage sights near the World Trade Center. Columbia lent the city special firefighting and heavy construction equipment, then purchased additional crowbars, rope, hard hats and other items to meet the increasing need. The athletics department opened its showers at Baker Field to state police troopers on special patrol duty. A University mechanic helped by fixing a city fire engine, and the University provided office space to a displaced city agency.
Students lined up to donate blood until area hospitals had to stop accepting donations due to the overwhelming number of volunteers. Assisting the New York Fire Department, the University began mobilizing health care professionals, social workers and engineers to be ready when more volunteers were needed.

One College senior was not willing to wait.

Knowing that her uncle, aunt and other family members were lucky to have escaped from the World Trade Center, Talia Poy '02 wanted to help immediately. She and a friend headed to the Javits Center, New York's central location for volunteer and relief efforts. "There was really no one to tell you what to do," said Poy. "When you saw something that needed to be done, you did it."

Poy stayed up all night on Wednesday unloading supplies and organizing them for easy distribution. As relief workers returned to the Javits Center, she realized that some needed supplies weren't available, and with a list in hand, she returned to Columbia. Poy and her classmates called local businesses, eliciting donations from Duane Reade (medicine, masks and insoles) and Eastern Mountain Sports (work gloves), among others. With the help of security and facilities management, the supplies were added to materials collected from the University service departments and other student donations and delivered to the NYPD for distribution. Thursday night, Poy once again was organizing supplies at the Javits Center, this time to keep them out of the rain.

Meanwhile, the University established the Columbia Ongoing Volunteer Effort for Rescuers. COVER organized students to work with administrators, student coordinators and rescue organizers to support the continuing efforts at the World Trade Center and the Javits Center. COVER maintained a central Web site where students, faculty and staff could register to volunteer with the relief efforts or for related campus activities. More than 1,500 people registered, and volunteers quickly were assigned to staff a tent on Low Plaza, distribute information from the University to students and coordinate the sorting of donated goods with the Javits Center and the Red Cross.

Cooperating with the NYPD, Columbia sponsored a clothing drive for rescue workers, collecting toiletries, towels, work clothes and paper and plastic goods for feeding rescue crews. Bins were opened at an information tent on the Low steps for contributions. As new needs became known, the University began collecting cell phone chargers, dog supplies, lip balm and medications. Volunteers at the tent also were accepting monetary donations for the Red Cross and providing contact information for other charities.

At the CC Student Council's September 16 meeting, members decided to launch the Columbia Allied Relief Effort. Overseen by James Cain '02, CARE organized a fair on September 23. Originally the idea of several large campus groups and Andrea Wang '02, the CARE fair became part of the student council's initiative. "Although a comprehensive calendar of relief events was the initial goal of CARE, we ended up hosting CARE Fair to raise money and touch on tolerance/awareness issues," Cain said. "More than 40 student groups participated, and we raised more than $5,000 for the Red Cross."

Other student group-sponsored activities included a dinner and silent auction fund-raiser on October 4, co-hosted by the College Democrats and Republicans, and a People for Peace gathering on September 24 on College Walk, where faculty were invited to speak about peace, anti-war, anti-racism, preservation of civil liberties, U.S. foreign policy, media bias and other timely topics.

WKCR, the student-run radio station whose transmitter had been atop the World Trade Center, was knocked off the air just as personnel were about to occupy new studios in Lerner Hall. As WKCR sought a new location for its antenna, it offered its new studios to WNYC, the National Public Radio affiliate whose facilities near the crash site were without power.

Other students responded to a call for translators of Arabic, Spanish and other languages to assist workers who lost their jobs. Volunteers also babysat while workers searched for new jobs and spouses filled out missing persons claim forms. Others coordinated food donations and helped with fundraising.

As COVER's efforts began to change from large-scale relief to the impact on the community, volunteers assumed new duties. The donation tent on Low plaza remained open, serving as an information center where student volunteers answered questions, updated bulletin boards and signed up new recruits. A listening station remained open next to the sundial for students who needed to express thoughts and concerns. COVER volunteers also continued to accept donations for the Red Cross in Lerner Hall.

Marcus Bleyer GS '04 found a way, through art, to support relief workers, express his grief and confusion over the attack and ultimately tighten the student community. The art history student lined College Walk with a 50-foot sheet of butcher paper addressed to downtown relief workers. As students walked past, many paused and expressed their thoughts and thanks in a rainbow of colors.

Faculty analysis
Many Columbia faculty members conducted forums and panel discussions, and Dean Quigley praised these for helping students sort out their thoughts and feelings. Also, faculty members served as expert commentators for the media on the tragedy and its aftermath.

Economics professors David Weinstein and Donald Davis predicted that despite the devastating impact of the attacks, New York City should rebound fully. They based their conclusions on a study of population growth in Japanese cities that suffered through earthquakes in 1923 and 1995 and bombing during World War II. Many Japanese cities that suffered great losses not only rebounded but saw their populations rise.

A number of Columbia professors have expressed civil liberties concerns, warning that the fight against terrorism likely will come at the expense of privacy and other freedoms.

"In the coming months, anything claiming to be in the name of security will be hard to oppose," said Alan Brinkley, history department chairman. "More streets will be closed, more buildings will be sealed off, more metal detectors will be installed. Life will become more difficult than it already is."

Other historians are grappling with the comparisons of September 11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. While some have rejected the analogy because the current enemy is not a specific nation, others see similarities in the loss of life and national trauma.

"The shock to America is probably as great as it was in 1941, which I remember because I'm of the World War II generation," said professor emeritus Henry Graff. "I'm sure we will recover. Nations and tribes and people everywhere recover from these events. But they don't forget."

"The United States will, at least in the short term, now have to move away from its recent policy of disengagement and unilateralism in the world," Brinkley added at a forum conducted by several history professors. "We'll have to be more mindful of the global community and our place in it."

Many other University scholars, both faculty and alumni, have appeared on television or radio since the attacks, including history professors Richard Bulliet and Ken Jackson, a specialist on New York City history. Jackson joined Professor of English and Comparative Literature Andrew Delbanco and Ric Burns '78, director of the epic documentary video series about New York, on PBS (WNET-13). Delbanco talked with Bill Moyers about evil as "the absence of seeing how your actions affect people — absence of humanity," and Brinkley has discussed the attacks and their effects on several news programs.

Associate Professor Stephen S. Morse, Mailman School of Public Health, was a guest on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" on October 3. Chaplain Davis and Rabbi Alvin Kass '57 were among the speakers at the massive Prayer for America service at Yankee Stadium on September 23, and Rabbi Harold Kushner '55 (author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, Schocken Books, reissued 2001) appeared on CNN's "Late Edition" offering advice on how to grieve and put the tragedy in perspective.

The School of International and Public Affairs sponsored a forum, "After the Attack," which discussed origins of the terrorist attacks and analyzed U.S. response, with Bulliet, Gary Sick, acting director of the Middle East Institute, and Lisa Anderson, SIPA dean.
Libraries and archives staffs formed a committee to collect materials for a World Trade Center Archive that eventually will be available for research. The committee has been collecting photographs, e-mails, letters, pamphlets, flyers, audiotapes and other items in all languages from the Columbia community to create a permanent record of the effects of the disaster and the University's response. (For information, e-mail wtc-preserve@columbia.edu.)

On September 28, the University libraries launched a new Web page entitled "The World Trade Center Attack: the Official Documents." Library users may access official government documents related to the attack.
Meanwhile, news coverage may be found under LibraryWeb's "E-News." Columbia International Affairs Online gives members of the Columbia community and others who register access to digital volumes of information on terrorism and related topics.
Last month, the National Science Foundation awarded Columbia $90,000 to conduct an oral history project on the attacks, over the next years.

Lasting effects on the University remain to be seen. Although details are not finalized, Columbia has announced plans to establish a scholarship fund for children of those who died in the WTC and children of rescue workers.

The impact on Columbia in such areas as admissions applications and fund-raising will become clearer over time. But according to an article in The New York Times on October 2, most potential college students have not altered their plans because of the attacks. Undergraduate Admissions canceled a forum for prospective students that had been scheduled for September 11 in Boston, but 75 students and parents attended a similar presentation in Portland, Maine, just two weeks later, four times last year's turnout.

Related Stories

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September 11: "I Knew I Had to Get Out"



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