Community unites in wake of tragedy

Concerned Williams students came out in force within hours of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, organizing numerous initiatives to help the rescue efforts in New York City and to remember those who perished in the assault on America. Their combined efforts have resulted in several community-wide events and potentially a new CC-recognized organization.

Richard Spalding, chaplain of the College, observed that Williams students are “superb at taking care of each other, and they’re doing a great job of it right now. Generally students’ consciences get mobilized quickly. . . I have been deeply moved by the energy on campus during the last few days. Within a few hours of the attack, students were at my door asking what we can do to help.”

The day after the tragedy, Spalding and the Williams Christian Fellowship (WCF) organized a meeting for all students interested in discussing ways for the College community to respond. Over 40 students gathered on extremely short notice on Wednesday afternoon in the Goodrich living room.

“I thought that it was fantastic to see people there, many of whom had received the e-mail 10 minutes earlier, and to hear the number of ideas they had,” said Healy Thompson ’03.

“Unfortunately there were a lot of people who missed that first meeting and feel left out now, so I’m glad the Record is covering this.”

Emily Simons ’04 felt that the meeting addressed a need that the College’s initial response to the tragedy did not fill. “Something that was mentioned at that first meeting was that [Tuesday night’s] Gaudino Forum, while noble in spirit, was the right thing at the wrong time,” she said. “Everyone wasn’t ready to discuss things on an intellectual level at that time. People were still trying to grapple with it on an emotional level and were feeling a little helpless. The meeting was a testament to how people are translating that helplessness into something tangible that they can do to make all of this better.”

Thompson and Simons are collaborating on one of the many initiatives that took root in the days following the meeting, the design of a T-shirt in support of the peace and solidarity. “The purpose of the t-shirt project is twofold,” Thompson said. “First, it is intended to be something that can build community here at Williams and in Williamstown. People can wear the shirts and feel like they are a part of a larger effort. Also very important is its fundraising potential. We’re planning to sell the T-shirts and have all of the proceeds go to relief efforts.” Thompson also noted that the chaplain’s office is subsidizing about three-quarters of the cost.

The T-shirt concept raised some controversy on the informal listserver generated by the Wednesday meeting. Many of the students on the listserver felt that the T-shirts should emphasize national unity in the face of terrorism, while others envisioned a message of world peace and reconciliation.

“I feel as though the one thing that we can all agree upon is that we’re trying to make a T-shirt showing the theme of community in the face of tragedy,” Simons said. “Our group is in a tough position: to be all-inclusive in the face of something that’s becoming an increasingly controversial issue between people who view community in a nationalistic sense and people who look at community more globally.”

Other students moved to address one of the most critical needs of the rescue efforts, the need for donated blood.

According to national media, the initial shortage of blood was quickly replenished by donors, but Red Cross officials expected supplies to be low again in the months following the attacks. Alexa Holleran ’04, who has been leading student collaboration with the Red Cross, said that the College will proceed with a regularly scheduled blood drive on Oct. 30 and 31.

However, to ensure a good turnout and a continuity of purpose, sign-ups for appointments will be held this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Baxter mailroom.

Holleran is also overseeing fundraising efforts on behalf of the Red Cross. “Next weekend we will be going door-to-door in the Williamstown community to ask for donations, and we still need help with that if people want to contact me,” she said. “You can also give a donation to the Chaplain’s office in the form of a check made out to the American Red Cross.” Collection cans will be placed in Williamstown business establishments and several locations on campus.

One of the most significant worries discussed at the Wednesday meeting was the potential for racist actions against Arab-Americans both on and off the Williams campus. Michael Ebell ’03 organized a letter-writing campaign to ask government and media officials to take a stand against such acts of hate (see related story).

Ebell’s ultimate goal, however, is to reach out directly to Americans of Arabic heritage with the help of the Arab-American Institute in Washington, D.C. The need for such outreach came into sharp focus late last week as newspapers nationwide published pictures of an Arab-American citizen whose store was sprayed with bullets.

“I want to write to that store owner and let him know that that action makes real Americans sick to their stomachs,” Ebell said.

Ching Ho ’03, president of the College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, decided to adapt a traditional Habitat event to the week’s heartrending events. On Sunday, volunteers from Habitat, Students for Social Justice (SSJ) and other campus groups constructed an “awareness house” on Baxter lawn. The back wall of the house was dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attack.

“Our monument stands as a hope for peace, and no more death,” Ho said. “We should all remember that some people live with this everyday, and that only through vigilant awareness and dedicated service will we stand forever united, in prayer that never again shall this happen, here or anywhere else.”

Dave Goodman ’03 and Eliza Segell ’04 organized a benefit concert in conjunction with the College Council (CC). The concert, which will feature student performers, is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 21 in the Harry C. Payne hall in Goodrich. Goodman said that he had “not yet decided” where the proceeds will be donated.

“We will donate the money to either FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] or the Red Cross, depending on what the situation looks like in New York next week and what the needs are at that time,” Goodman said.

Brian Werner ’01, a second semester senior, set up collection boxes in Baxter mailroom for bottled water, non-perishable food, work clothes, and other necessities. The items collected were picked up by the North Adams chapter of the Salvation Army and shipped to New York City on Sunday.

In conjunction with Werner’s effort, Thompson and Eric Getty ’02 collected donations for additional supplies in Baxter mailroom on Sunday afternoon. Students contributed $390 in an hour and a half, and Thompson and Getty used the funds to purchase headlamps, batteries, work gloves, work boots, clothing and canned foods, all of which were shipped to New York along with the items students contributed directly.

Another idea generated at last week’s meeting was a ribbon campaign to keep the memory of the attack and its victims alive. However, student organizers decided to wait for a nationwide campaign to emerge and to involve the campus in that national effort.

Thompson proposed that the various branches of student activism unite into an official group and seek recognition from the CC.

She noted that a CC-recognized group would make everyone’s work easier by simplifying issues of funding, advertising and coordination. A meeting was held Saturday night in Hardy House to discuss the purpose and organization of such a group. According to Thompson, those gathered at the Hardy House meeting chose Students for Community Action in the Midst of Tragedy (SCAMT) for the group’s name. SCAMT’s mission statement and organization remain under discussion.