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
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
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