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Compilation of photography of BC post September 11.
The campus responds

The Boston College community's responses to the tragic events of September 11 were immediate, continuing, and, like the BC family itself, far-flung. Some actions--the organizing of prayer services, the canceling of athletic events, the decision to continue with classes in order to give students a chance to sort out their thoughts in small groups with a professor on the side--bespoke an official University response. But students also came forward with official measures--a special edition of the Heights dated September 17, for instance, and the launch of a campus-wide fund-raising effort by Undergraduate Government (UGBC). And some responses were purely individualistic--the Web site, for example, created by an alumnus in the Philippines as an informal message center for exchanging news of BC graduates in Washington and New York.

The first responses took shape less than an hour after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, when a dozen key Boston College administrators assembled in the president's office in Botolph House to form the University's Tragedy Response Group. The group, led by President William P. Leahy, SJ, included the heads of student affairs, campus security, and information technology, as well as the University chaplain and the academic vice president. They met at least daily for a week, assessing the needs of BC's varied and extended community. The initial concern, according to Cheryl Presley, vice president for student affairs, was "What do we need to do to make sure our students are safe?" And then, "How do we support our students--especially first-year students, who have only been on campus a few weeks?" Among the actions taken in the days immediately following the attacks: The office of student affairs contacted all international students, offering special support to Arab and Middle Eastern students. (Not one incident of harassment would be reported, as it turned out.) Another message was dispatched to BC undergraduates studying abroad, with advice on how to proceed in an uncertain time. Meanwhile, in campus dormitories, resident and peer ministers maintained an overnight presence. And the School of Social Work opened a Family and Friends Drop-in Support Center in McGuinn Hall to serve Boston-area residents awaiting word of loved ones.

In the first week, many opportunities were provided for students, faculty, and staff to pray together--on Wednesday the 12th at a Mass in St. Mary's for the victims; on Thursday and Friday, at ecumenical noontime prayer vigils on the quad, arranged by Campus Ministry; and on Thursday night at a UGBC-organized candlelight vigil. On the first Sunday after the attacks, a special Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by Fr. Leahy, drew more than 1,700 people to O'Neill Plaza.

O'Neill Plaza would also be the point of embarkation for the campus's only significant political demonstration during the first month. Some 250 students and faculty marched silently across campus on September 20, behind a banner that read "Pray for Peace. No more victims anywhere." The next morning, coincidentally, the University's ROTC unit ran 2.5 miles in silence, then held a flag-raising ceremony to honor fire, police, and medical personnel killed in the September 11 attacks. Neither activity, however, was nearly as well subscribed as the Red Cross Club's blood drive: Student organizers began signing up donors on the day after the tragedy; in seven hours they enlisted 480 students and were forced to turn away others. In the weeks that followed, students' desire to help remained strong. On October 11, a Run for Relief sponsored by the Asian Caucus raised $1,700 for the families of victims of the attacks.

Student opinion on what the U.S. course should be seemed mixed from the start. The Letters section in the Heights' September 17 edition was weighted with headlines like "Senior condemns U.S. military action" and "Senior cautions against retaliation," and this one: "Sophomore renounces American citizenship."

"Hiroshima. . . Iraq. . . Kosovo. . . . When have we not bombed and killed innocent people?" the sophomore wrote. "I'm not trying to defend the horrible act that happened on Tuesday--I just want to show that we are as bad as them and we brought Tuesday upon ourselves. . . . This is why I've decided to renounce my citizenship to the United States of America." Students' responses to his letter in a subsequent issue occupied roughly 18 column feet of space. Most of the writers were reflective ("In the words of Voltaire, 'I may disapprove of what you say; but I will fight to the death for your right to say it'"), but virtually all got around to speculating, with varying degrees of tact, on where the young man might find a new roost.

The Heights also printed a page of filings from its foreign correspondents--students who'd gone away for a semester in Spain, Israel, France, and New Zealand. Despite efforts at journalistic decorum, their reports sent signals of stress and homesickness. "The overwhelming feeling here is plain frustration," wrote one young woman in Madrid, adding "I do not want to hear Bush dubbed in Spanish." In Valladolid, Spain, another wrote, the students from BC arranged to meet and talk over the day's events.

On the other side of the world, Rafael Castillo '00 was also feeling isolated. Castillo, a medical student in the Philippines, converted his personal Web page (already adorned with a BC eagle) into a message board where alumni could report in and inquire after friends. The Boston College Alumni Association home page provided a link to Castillo's site (www.geocities.com/castillr/), which logged 95 messages in the first two weeks. Most submissions were terse, e-mail style: "Saw the second plane hit from outside my window," read one. "Glad to report that I am ok. The following from the class of 2001 are also ok." A list of four names followed. The correspondents tended to be graduates in their twenties and thirties, but several faculty members, notably from the Carroll School, also posted queries and supplied news. Frank Walley, who teaches in the Finance Department, wrote: "Each year at Commencement we send our students into the world with great expectations, and sometimes great trepidation, always hoping for the best. . . . Please keep in touch."

As the first, urgent questions--who's been hurt, who have we lost--came to have answers, the University's faculty and staff turned also to the kinds of inquiry that they are more accustomed to. Assistant Theology Professor Qamar-Ul Huda appeared on CNN's "Sunday Morning," for example, to answer questions about the commonalities among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. PBS aired a discussion with Theology Professor Lisa Sowell Cahill on the concept of "just war" in Christian tradition.

And on campus, beginning with a panel presentation on September 20 ("9/11/01: Why? Why the Middle East? Why America? Why Now?"), Boston College began a series of informed considerations of current events. The perspectives have ranged from history and geopolitics to theology and comparative religion, and the presenters have included specialists from across American academe as well as from within the University (see "Think," page 11). Attendance at these evening talks, even with the approach of midterms, has remained high.

An official list of the BC alumni and family lost in the tragedies of September 11 was assembled by the President's office (see page 14). One month after the attacks, it totaled 22 alumni, three parents of current students, and 48 relatives of BC community members.

Anna Marie Murphy

Photos: clockwise from top left: O'Neill Plaza, one month after; campus kiosk with the names of BC's dead; UGBC vigil, September 13; Mass of the Holy Spirit, September 16. Photos by Lee Pellegrini

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