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A LETTER FROM ACTING PRESIDENT JOHN CONNOLLY

October 1, 2001

Dear Alumnae, Parents, and Friends of Smith College:

I write today to offer you a sense of the responses here at Smith to the tragic events of September 11. As you know, the semester had barely begun, indeed we had completed only three days of classes, before the incredible news and searing images engulfed us. On the day of the catastrophes themselves we did our best to provide structure, reliable information, and opportunities for counseling at various places on campus. Shock and grief were tangible everywhere.

An all-college meeting was convened that afternoon in John M. Greene Hall. Some 2,000 students, staff, and faculty members came together in a moving display of communal solidarity. In opening remarks I attempted to give voice to the grief and horror we were all experiencing, and I reminded the audience of the statements of former Presidents Mendenhall and Davis at all-college meetings following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

I called on all of us to support one another and to resist appeals to hatred toward the members of any racial, religious, or ethnic group because of the actions of particular members of such groups. This remark drew sustained applause. In an attempt to begin the process of using the resources of the faculty to understand the events of that day we were, by a happy coincidence, able to hear the views of Sally Katzen '64, a former senior federal official, who is familiar with the planning for responses to terrorism. Provost Susan Bourque and Professor Donna Divine, both of the Government Department, also shed some historical and political light on what little was at that point known with certainty. The Dean of the College, Maureen Mahoney, spoke about support available to students, including residence life and student affairs staff, class deans, and the counseling service. Our new Dean of Religious Life, Jennifer Walters, closed the program with a set of reflections. Reactions to the meeting were very positive, but the horror of the day hit me anew when, on leaving the hall, I encountered a traumatized first-year student whose father had been seriously injured that morning in the Pentagon.

In the days that followed there were multiple responses on campus: faculty members organized a panel before a packed house in Wright Auditorium; a College web site was created (at www.smith.edu/response -- you will also find there a link to a bulletin board established by some alumnae); the Chapel offered opportunities for reflection and prayer; the Music Department presented a moving concert of mostly sacred music in Sage Hall; members of the Social Work faculty volunteered to assist in counseling; and in a host of ways people all around campus reached out spontaneously to one another across the everyday barriers. I lost count of all the people who told me how proud they felt to be a part of this community, a sentiment I certainly share.

The parents of two students are missing in the calamity at the World Trade Center. A number of other relatives and friends of students and staff members are also lost. We do not yet have definitive information on alumnae who may have been killed or injured. Our hearts go out to all the bereaved. The College will do its part to assure that the education of students who lost a parent will not be interrupted. The value of what we offer at Smith has never been more vital.

There has been an outpouring of support from the campus for the victims of the tragedies. For example, students have staged vigils and rallies, an enterprising senior organized a local car-wash to raise funds for the Red Cross, and the Student Government has effectively mobilized in a variety of ways. As we step beyond our immediate reactions to the events of September 11, we are organizing our academic resources to explore all aspects of the tragedy, and we will continue to maintain a respectful, supportive environment in which all voices can be heard.

In the coming weeks we will monitor closely the unfolding situation at Smith and act wherever necessary, including in our overseas study programs. Please feel free to contact us to share your views or obtain information. These are dark days, but the Smith community has responded from the heart, the soul and the intellect, and we are moving forward. Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

John M. Connolly
Acting President

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