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  September 17, 2001

University Community Responds to Tragedy

Students, faculty and staff, initially stunned and shocked by the events in New York City and Washington, D.C., last week are now turning their efforts towards helping the rescue workers and victims of multiple terrorist attacks against the U.S.

UConn Remembers September 11
A special website has been developed to coordinate information regarding ways the UConn community is responding to the tragic events of September 11.
The page includes information about food/water drives, blood drives, special events, and other important information for the University community.
Go to the UConn Remembers site.

"What happened in New York and Washington, D.C., affects us all," said President Philip E. Austin. "Many members of the University community are directly affected, but even those who are not have been deeply moved by these tragic events. We must use this terrible moment in American history as a time to reach out to one another and to foster discussion, inquiry, and tolerance."

A University-wide five-minute period of silence will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 8:48 a.m. Faculty, staff and students at all campuses are requested to participate.

The events in New York and Washington have spawned a flurry of activity. Some students affiliated with the ROTC programs in Storrs and reservists at the School of Law who are assigned to intelligence units in the Armed Forces have already been called up. Several staff members who are also in the reserve have packed already, anticipating a call any day.

Initially, though, groups of people were glued to television sets at various UConn campuses, most too stunned to react. Groups of students quietly discussed the events and some professors reported that they felt compelled by the enormity of the events and student reaction to focus on the day's events in class. Workers huddled in conference rooms to watch the news, and top administrators gathered in Gulley Hall to discuss the University's reactions.

Televisions in the Student Union were so mobbed that additional televisions were set up in the Student Union Ballroom and the Dodd Center. The situation was similar at other UConn campuses. In Stamford and in Torrington, for example, televisions were set up in the auditoriums, while at the School of Law, people gathered to watch in the library. Groups of people gathered to listen as the incredible story unfolded of hijacked planes hitting both World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and crashing in Pennsylvania.

The numbers of students, faculty and staff affected personally by the tragedies is not yet known. But at press time, a number of students were awaiting word on missing parents, several students had been notified about the deaths of family members, and still others were mourning or awaiting word on friends. At least two UConn alumni who worked in the World Trade Center were missing, and a faculty member at the Stamford campus noted that many of her former students worked there and have not yet been heard from.

"Stamford is ground zero as far as UConn is concerned," said Jackie Joseph Silverstein, director of the Stamford campus. "On campus, there is not one person who doesn't know someone who worked in the World Trade Center. It has been horrendous waiting to know what happened to individuals."

The reaction at the Stamford campus was immediate and palpable, she said, with people making calls on cell phones to loved ones. Many students left immediately to be with their families or because they feared the roads would become impassable. Flip charts were placed in the Stamford concourse on Thursday so students could write down their feelings and thoughts.

The regional campuses, like other state offices, closed about noon on Tuesday in an attempt to keep commuters off the road. At Storrs, classes continued throughout the day, although faculty were asked to be flexible about students who were absent. Evening classes were cancelled.

At the School of Social Work, one instructor related discussion of the situation to the planned topic. In a 9 a.m casework class on Tuesday, after the students talked about their reactions of horror and disbelief, the instructor helped them draw parallels to the fears experienced by their clients and the issues of security and danger that social workers must deal with in their profession.

Nell Newton, dean of the School of Law, which closed, kept the library lounge open so students could gather and watch television together. After the lounge closed, she offered to have students come to her home to watch.

Student Affairs staff have received calls from parents who said the Storrs campus is the safest place their children could be and were worried their children would attempt to leave. Other parents called to ask that students be sent home, or to be reassured that their child was safe. A few asked staff to go to their child's room so the student would have someone there when bad news was delivered by telephone. Several were still waiting to find out the fate of relatives. One student at the law school got good news: both his parents were safe. One parent worked at the Pentagon, the other at the World Trade Center.

Many students, like faculty and staff, tried to reach loved ones in New York and Washington, some without success because telephones and cell phones were not working properly. One father kept in touch with his daughter by cell phone, as she left her job a few blocks from the White House and walked home to Arlington, Va.

Counseling staff at all the campuses have been working overtime in an attempt to provide an ear for students. "Our counselors have been very, very busy," said Sam Miller, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs. "There are so many people who were directly affected by these events."

Counselors both at Counseling Services and at Student Health Services will remain on call 24 hours a day to assist students. Counseling for faculty and staff can be arranged through Human Resources.

Faculty are asked to advise students who leave to go home to notify the Dean of Students office or their resident assistant, to avoid missing person reports.

By Wednesday, the quiet stunned behavior on campus, as in the nation, turned towards action. Wednesday night, more than 3,000 people in Storrs held a spiritual - though not religious - candlelight vigil in the Student Union Mall (see related story) and the Undergraduate Student Government began organizing a food drive. Some faculty were already planning panel discussions and lectures for later in the semester, to focus debate on topics such as terrorism.

The School of Fine Arts mobilized its choral and orchestral groups, along with students, faculty and administrators, to perform Mozart's Requiem Mass. Dean David Woods asked the Hartford Symphony to participate, and the combined groups offered the concert on Saturday night in Hartford, on Sunday afternoon in Storrs, and on Sunday night at the Stamford campus.

The School of Social Work is planning a memorial service for the victims, but no date has yet been set.

The Division of Athletics postponed indefinitely athletic and other events scheduled to take place through Sunday, Sept. 16, including the student sale of men's basketball tickets.

Other departments used sunshine funds to make donations to various groups, and one office, University Communications, organized a collection of money to purchase UConn water at cost for rescue workers in New York. The water will be driven to New York by the Salvation Army.

"We wanted to send a message to rescue workers that we're thinking of you," said Janice Palmer, who organized the water drive. "A lot of people at the University were trying to find a way to make the University a part of the effort."

To participate, send a check payable to the University of Connecticut to University Communications- Water Drive, 1266 Storrs Road, Storrs, CT 06269-4144 by Sept. 21.

At the Health Center, an emergency medical services tactical team traveled to New York City to offer assistance to firefighters and extrication efforts. The team joined the New York City tactical team and provided direct medical support at ground zero.

At the regional campuses, moments of reflection took place during the week and the School of Law conducted an open forum in the Starr Reading Room on Wednesday, to allow students to voice their opinions about the week's events.

People all over the world, in fact, were focused on the events. University employees received e-mail from all over the world expressing concern about the events of Tuesday, Sept. 11.

"It is with great difficulty that I am trying to put into perspective all that we are seeing happening in your country. Please send to all of them my deepest felt sorrow and say that we all know how strong the American people are," said one message from a South African colleague.

"We are shocked and very sad for all American people. It is so terrible and incredible for all the world," read an e-mail from Italy.

People on campus, too, were reaching out to each other. Debbie Rubenstein from the Hillel Center immediately called the Muslim Student Association representatives to offer her support.

Rubenstein, who is spearheading a Month of Kindness to take place on campus later this fall, said the events in New York and Washington underscore the reasons for the month. "Students are our future leaders. It is important for them and for us that they participate in a month of kindness now."

Reda A. Ammar, professor of computer science and engineering and president of the Islamic Center, and Abdel Rahman Hamadan, president of the Muslim Student Association, issued a joint statement strongly condemning the terrorist actions.

"We share the grief and sorrow of the nation and the international community in the terrible tragedies that took place," they said. "These attacks against innocent people are horrific and unbelievable. These terrorist acts cannot be validated by any philosophy or religion, and when done in the name of religion, become an act of terrorism against the religion itself. ... We join with all Americans and the international community in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators, whatever they call themselves and regardless of who they identify themselves with. We call upon our justice system to maintain strict standards of justice and fairness in these trying times.

"We regret the backlash against innocent Muslims, including women and children, who ourselves deplore and are opposed to terrorism and violence, and appeal for solidarity with the American community. We express our deepest sympathies to the victims, their families and to the American nation and our utmost sorrow for the lives that were wrongfully taken."

For information on how you help or express your opinion about the events that have taken place, the University has set up A website: GO TO

Karen A. Grava

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