U of C responds to September 11 tragedy

By William Wan

While talk of war spread across the country, the U of C community gathered Tuesday to hear words of peace and hope at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Although no one from the University was reported missing, the inter-religious service was just one of many vigils held on campus since the terrorist attacks on September 11.

“For some people, religion can help make meaning out of this, and they can draw a sense of comfort from knowing they are not alone,” said Chapel Dean Alison Boden.

The first vigil, held on the day of the attacks, came just after University President Don Randel’s e-mail of support to students, faculty and staff. He began by stating: “The immense tragedy that has been inflicted on this country…will deeply affect each of us….”

The effect of the attacks was immediate and widespread. University workers left offices early to check on loved ones. People across the campus held moments of silence. The flag flew at half-mast.

At the U of C hospitals, volunteers lined the corridors, waiting to give blood.

“By that Friday, we were already booked the next several weeks for blood donations,” said hospital spokesman John Easton. “I think people were very frustrated by the events and that was the one good thing people could do.”

Many doctors volunteered to help, but no planes could fly them to the scenes. The burn unit prepared in vain for injured survivors that would never come. Samir Patel, a University doctor in New York at the time, visited local hospitals but found that most injured people were fatally injured.

At the Laboratory School, where classes started on September 10, administrators decided school should go on.

“We wanted to keep life as normal as we could for the kids,” said lower school Principal Beverly Biggs. “On the second day, there were a lot of questions. So we let the kids ask and we discussed it, but we weren’t afraid to say we didn’t know why these things happened.”

In the following days, life on campus continued, though altered. President Randel along with Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist representatives led an interfaith prayer service September 12 on the Quads. Games were postponed for women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer. Practices for all sports teams were sporadic as some players were still in shock.

Alumni on a University-planned trip to Normandy flew home September 16 after sleeping several nights on church pews in Newfoundland, where their plane had been diverted.

Some first-years got off to a rocky start with almost 200 absent on September 15, the first day of orientation. Many took trains or drove because of flight delays. International students arrived latest, many stranded in Canada because of diverted flights

“Orientation went very well, considering the circumstances,” said Linda Choi, director of College Programming. “It’s difficult enough to start your college life, and I imagine all this made it a little more difficult. But on opening day, I saw a lot of excitement.”

Maureen Tracey-Mooney, a first-year in the College, enjoyed orientation but was frustrated. “[The administrators] talked about it a lot, which in some ways was good, but I also wanted to experience the whole beginning of college life. I wanted to be happy about being here.”

Upperclassmen, most still at home or work, had different experiences. Afaf Qayyum, a second-year, spent the whole day watching television. “The second day, I slept 14 hours,” she said. “I didn’t want to look at the TV or know what was going on in the world. It was very depressing.”

For graduate student Maha Nassar, the past weeks were also tinged with fear.

“As a Muslim, I’ve been concerned for friends and family,” said Nassar, a member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA). She heard of one Muslim beating at another college and knows friends who were discriminated against in the Chicago suburbs.

“People in general are very emotional and want to vent that anger, but people at the U of C have been pretty supportive,” said MSA President Khalid Najib. He noted that President Randel had talked to MSA’s vice-president, promising a “zero tolerance” policy toward discrimination.

“All these different reactions are normal,” said Dr. Morton Silverman, director of student counseling and resource services. “The range is everywhere from shock and anger, to fear and dismay, to grief and mourning, but students are getting help dealing with these feelings.”

After the terrorist attacks, University counselors held special training sessions with resident heads and assistants. They also met with students coping with the trauma. Counselors will conduct two support groups in October for students still struggling to deal with September’s crisis.

“The best thing for students is to talk about their feelings and establish routines to get some regularity in their lives,” Silverman said.

Life at the University seemed regular enough this first week of school. Students filled the Quads and packed Cobb Hall’s classrooms. But even these classes — many miles and weeks removed from the tragedy — were affected.

On the first day of his English literature course, Professor Edward Rosenheim related the texts to the tragedy in New York. “Pope and Hume were dealing with the same question that faces us today: how could a benevolent God allow such evil in the world?” he said.

Professor Charles Lipson spent most of his introduction to international relations class explaining U.S. policies of response to the attacks. “It seems like the international relations classes are just jam-packed,” said John Brehm, political science department chair. In Lipson’s class, for example, attendance jumped from 83 students last year to 188. “Everybody is now curious about the state of world affairs,” Brehm said. “There’s been a return nationwide of interest to political science.”

Lipson said that the University’s role in the crisis is to be “a bastion of learning and free discussion.” The University’s professors are fulfilling that role, appearing frequently as experts in newspapers and radio and television broadcasts. The National Opinion Research Center is also contributing with a survey assessing public reaction to the attack by comparing it to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Tuesday’s inter-religious service at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel was one of hope.

“For we can do nothing but hope,” concluded Associate Chapel Dean Daphne Burt. “And the reasons for hope are all around us. People are coming together in ways we have never done before. We are united as a community of hope.”