By Laura Butchy
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
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.
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
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
"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.
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
Sciences Web site offered stress management
"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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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."
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."
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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
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.
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