College grieves with nation

The Williams community and the entire world watched with horror and anguish as the deadliest terrorist attack in American history snuffed out thousands of lives in New York City, Washington, D.C. and western Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Sept. 11. At least two Williams graduates and the parent of a current Williams student are missing in the attack on the World Trade Center, and countless other lives changed forever in a single morning.

College administrators responded swiftly to the crisis, summoning all of the College’s counseling and support services to be available for students needing to talk. Counselors were stationed in Baxter Snack Bar, Driscoll Lounge, the East Lounge in Mission and the Makepeace room in Greylock.

The chaplains, the deans and personnel from the Health Center and the Multicultural Center (MCC) also made themselves available. Security officers patrolled the dorms looking for students in need of help.

Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, addressed the Williams community via e-mail from Seattle, where he had traveled on college business. “In this moment of shock and sadness, I urge all of us in the College community to reach out and support one another,” Schapiro wrote. “My thoughts and prayers are very much with you. I am eager to return to the community that now seems more precious to me than ever.”

Nancy Roseman, dean of the College, also emphasized the need for solidarity. “We all need to feel the support and compassion of our community at this time,” she wrote in an e-mail early Tuesday afternoon. “If you feel the need to gather and talk, staff from all of our student support services are available.”

Roseman announced that all of Tuesday’s athletic practices and events were canceled, but left class meetings up to the discretion of the individual instructors. Many professors canceled their classes, others used class time to discuss the morning’s attacks and others chose to proceed as planned.

Robert Jackall, a professor of sociology and the 2001-2002 Gaudino scholar, called a Gaudino forum on Tuesday night to allow students and faculty to publicly discuss the terrorist acts. Panelists included James McAllister and Marc Lynch from the political science department, Jackall and David Edwards from the anthropology and sociology department, Dean Roseman, and Gail Newman, director of the MCC.

One of the most prominent themes in the forum was the likelihood of military retaliation by the United States and the need to avoid targeting the wrong people. “An indiscriminate response is worse than no response at all,” Edwards said. A student went even further, saying that “we should not retaliate because of the lack of absolute proof; if we do, this gives the terrorists an even bigger victory.”

In one of the gathering’s most dramatic moments, a student said that he always looked up at the twin towers of the World Trade Center whenever he arrived home in New York City, and now did not know what it would be like to come home without that familiar landmark. “A piece of my life is just gone,” the student said.

Moments of Remembrance

On the evening of the attacks, hundreds of people gathered in Thompson Memorial Chapel for an interfaith service entitled “Prayers for Peace.” The hour-long program incorporated prayers, readings and reflections from many faith traditions.

Richard Spalding, chaplain to the College, opened the service by singing the haunting African-American spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” Darius Jonathan, a Williamstown resident who was raised in Sudan, chanted a prayer for the dead from the Koran, the holy book of the Muslim faith. Evan Sandhaus ’02 read the mourning Kaddish, a traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, while associate chaplain Rabbi Sigma Faye Coran lit candles of remembrance.

Peter Feudo, associate chaplain to Catholic students, reflected on the heroism of the rescue workers who lost their lives trying to save others, including one of his brother Franciscans. Alex Lavy ’03 read from the Book of Psalms, and Shilpa Duvoor ’04 read a Taoist piece on ahimsa, the Hindu concept of nonviolence preached by Mahatma Gandhi.

At the conclusion of the service, Spalding invited members of the audience to come forward and light small candles from the candles of remembrance and place them on the altar, and Keith Ericson ’04 led the audience in a world peace prayer.

In an e-mail Thursday night, President Schapiro called on all members of the community to pause for five minutes of silence at noon on Friday, in observance of the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of Terrorist Attacks called by President Bush. The bells of the Lasell gymnasium and Thompson Memorial Chapel marked the beginning and end of the five minutes of silence, which Williams students, faculty and staff observed in the chapel, in the classrooms, in the dormitories, in the dining halls, and outdoors. 12:00 p.m. classes were moved to 12:10 to accommodate the solemn observance.

On Baxter lawn, where several hundred people were gathered, Crew Coach Justin Moore played “Taps” after the second ringing of the bells.

Several college staff members filed out of Baxter Hall with bouquets of flowers and placed them at the foot of the flagpole, where the American flag flew at half-staff. Many of those in attendance were moved to tears.

A third large-scale public observance was a candlelight vigil on Baxter lawn on Sunday night. Diane Williams ’02, who has coordinated the “Take Back the Night” vigil for the Rape and Sexual Assault Network for the past two years, took the lead in planning Sunday’s memorial. In a Record interview prior to the event, Williams said that the vigil would be open to all members of the College community and local residents as well.

“I felt like there was really a need for the community to get together and acknowledge our mutual suffering, and to take a little time to say ?Wow, I’m affected by this,’” Williams said. “I wanted to make sure that Williamstown felt like a community, especially with the idea of people starting to be harassed because of their ethnicity. I’d like it to feel like a place where we’re all in this together.”

According to Williams, one of the unanticipated challenges of planning the vigil was finding candles.

“We had about 320 left over from Take Back the Night, and we collected about 300 more from local churches,” she said. “We’re hoping that we run out.” A reception at the Log was planned for after the vigil, thanks to donations from Dining Services, Security and several Spring Street stores.

Emotional Impact

“There are students, faculty and staff who are really brokenhearted, and it’s important to take that seriously,” Spalding said. “Some people feel the hurt of grief, some feel the hurt of outrage, some feel the hurt of despair, some feel the hurt of a loss of faith. The experience of grief is really a journey. It has a beginning and a middle, but I’m not sure if it has an end. This [tragedy] is not going to go away, even if we have no more horrible attacks.”

In a third message on Friday afternoon, President Schapiro announced that one recent Williams graduate, Lindsay Morehouse ’00, was known to be missing in the attack on the World Trade Center. Morehouse was an economics major and a captain of the women’s tennis team. Betsy Brainerd, an assistant professor of economics who had Morehouse in two of her classes, remembered her as “a warm and vital young woman with a great outlook on life.”

Other members of the economics department also shared fond memories of Morehouse. Roger Bolton said that he “still [has] many of the e-mails she sent as ’Linz’ with questions on how she could make her work as good as possible, and always with a ’thanks’ in advance.”

“I will miss Lindsay,” Kaye Husbands-Fealing, an economics professor, said. “As I watched television this week and I saw survivors that were about her age, I could see her face in theirs. Her indomitable spirit lives on. May God bless her; may God bless her family.”

In addition, a media advisory released on Monday announced that Brian Murphy ’80 is also confirmed missing; he worked for the company eSpeed Inc., located in the World Trade Center. While at Williams, Murphy majored in English. He earned an M.B.A. from Columbia University in 1987.

Schapiro also said that one student was missing a parent and several others were missing members of their extended families or friends. Spalding expressed confidence in the administration’s ability to handle such heart-wrenching situations with compassion.

“Any time a student experiences a loss in the family, the College makes every accommodation it possibly can to help the student be with his or her family and to solicit on behalf of the student understanding from professors and other people,” Spalding said. “When the student returns to school, the Dean’s office is very careful to stay in close touch with the student and help him or her seek out resources for help on campus.”

One such resource is Life Raft, a weekly support group Spalding started last year for students experiencing any kind of grief. Spalding indicated that students are free to come as few or as many times as desired. The group will have its first meeting of the academic year on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 9:30 p.m. in the O’Connell Room in the lower level of Thompson Chapel.

Reactions to the Crisis

One public forum for discussion, sharing and reflection was provided by members of the Rape and Sexual Assault Network. Diane Williams ’02 and Michelle Smith ’02, with the assistance of the Dean’s office and the department of Buildings and Grounds, set up three large sandwich boards in Baxter mailroom. Within days the boards were filled with comments and quotations reflecting a wide diversity of opinions.

Many students who did not know anyone directly impacted by the attacks expressed feelings of a profound connection to those who were killed, wounded and suffering. “I feel for the families and individuals directly affected by yesterday’s violence, who are now bereaving their loved ones, or bewildered and searching through the rubble,” wrote Katherine Foo ’02 in a reflection to family and friends. “I feel for those who perished yesterday – images of little figures jumping from the top of the World Trade Center, and of people panicking on the fated planes, some speaking their last words on their cell phones. This chaos is inside me, as it unfolds around me, although I did not know anyone in the crash. I feel for Americans as a group, because we have all been ripped apart by this and we don’t know what to do.”

“There seems to be something incredibly fake about going to class as if everything is normal,” one student wrote in Baxter mailroom. “But everyone keeps telling me that it’s all we can do, so I guess that’s what I’ll do. I’d really like to go home to NYC, but I’m afraid of what I’ll find there. I’m grateful for my family and the Williams community. I’ve never prayed before, but now I do.”

Some of those who wrote on the Baxter mailroom boards suggested that America should use this time to evaluate its own legacy in the world.

In one student’s words: “Before we ’strike down the evil that hates us,’ [quotation from previously written comments] let’s check ourselves. The tragedy was horrible. At the same time, America has carried out violent actions against other countries. We do it ALL THE TIME in the name of ’freedom.’ My thoughts, let’s not forget to look at us. What did we do that may have caused this” Those remarks were later crossed out in another color marker.

Many students expressed alarm at the words of retaliation spoken by President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other high-level U.S. officials.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” said Kristin Englebrecht-Bleem ’04. “We must live peace and nonviolence every day, not only when it suits us to use the words.”

“Treat the terrorist attack as a crime, not an act of war,” another student wrote. “Gather evidence, find those who are guilty, set up a UN trial. Punish the guilty and only the guilty.”

Other students acknowledged the possibility that military action may be necessary, but were concerned that officials would respond rashly. “I don’t know what kind of action would be the most effective,” said Gianna Marzilli ’04, “but I’m concerned about targeting people or groups who have nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, and thereby causing even more problems. Knee-jerk military reactions aren’t the way to deal with things.”

“If we do not respond in the proper manner we open ourselves up to further attacks,” one commenter wrote. “If our enemies see that we do nothing, they will come back at us. We must retaliate at those responsible, but only those responsible. Let the cowards kill innocent civilians. Let the USA show its greatness in this way.”

Even within the open and anonymous forum of the sandwich boards, students frequently wrote stinging criticisms of each other’s opinions. Others pleaded for a common sense of purpose, including one student who wrote: “Stop arguing with each other! We’ve seen the consequences of strife! We don’t need misunderstandings among our own citizens. Let the red tape wait. Go help instead donate blood, time, prayer.”

In the midst of the sorrow and numbness following the attacks, however, many members of the Williams community came forward with words of hope. Anand Swamy, assistant professor of economics, expressed confidence that the nation’s wounds will heal, even if it takes a long time.

In one of his classes, Swamy told students how the “mood and atmosphere” of the present national crisis reminded him of a time in his native India during his college years. In 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, and the riots that followed took the lives of over 2,500 Sikhs.

“It was terrible, terrible time,” Swamy said. “We couldn’t believe something like this had happened to our city. We had the sense that things had changed irrevocably, that normalcy would never be restored. But we were wrong. It wasn’t quick or easy, but the violence did come to an end, and things did settle down. The community was tough, and with time and patient effort, it withstood the shock. And so as I look around I think, this is a resilient community too; it too will heal, and return to its way of life.”

Other members of the College community praised the way that Americans have come together in the face of tragedy, both on the Williams campus and on the national level. One message of encouragement in Baxter mailroom read: “God bless the brave, strong, dedicated NYC police, fire and medical crews and the people of the U.S.A.!”

Ryan Boyd ’05 found it “exciting and heart-lifting that, even in the midst of tragedy, Williams is able to come out in force and stand with patriotism, but still? debate the short and long term effects that both the terrorist attack and the imminent American retribution will hold on the world community in class, over lunch and in Baxter lounge. The College is able to maintain its? reputation as an institution that upholds knowledge and intelligence as the building blocks for society even in the face of such destruction.”

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *