A Community Gathers Together
Immediately after two hijacked passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, a third plane struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, it was clear that the Smith community would need substantial leadership and support in dealing with this tragedy. Fear and disbelief turned into a need to accept and understand the horrendous events that had just occurred. What follows are some of the ways in which the Smith community reacted, responded and reflected in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Smith faculty, staff and students, like people everywhere, were horrified and grief-stricken as they watched television, listened to the radio or heard from friends the unfolding news of the terrorist acts that occurred on September 11. Acting President John M. Connolly quickly gathered members of his senior staff to consider what actions to take: Cancel classes? Call an all-college meeting? Mobilize the counseling and chapel staffs to provide support for anxious students and staff? The group agreed that classes should continue to meet, as part of an effort to maintain a degree of normalcy. It was left to individual students and members of the faculty to decide whether to attend or hold classes. For the most part, the academic routine continued as scheduled, although class discussion sometimes focused on the events of the day rather than on the topic of the course.
In the late afternoon, students, faculty and staff filled John M. Greene Hall for an all-college meeting. "Although it is our primary purpose this afternoon to demonstrate our solidarity with one another and with everyone affected by these tragedies, it is also right that we, as a community of learning, take the first, tentative steps toward understanding the events of this morning," said Connolly. To that end, two speakers-Donna Divine, professor of government, and Sally Katzen '64, former deputy director of the National Economic Council in the Clinton administration, where she was also involved in planning scenarios designed to combat terrorist activities-offered some context for the tragic events. Other speakers were Susan Bourque, provost; Maureen Mahoney, dean of the college; and Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life.
As days passed, the college marshaled a variety of resources that continued to provide support and information for students, faculty and staff.
And in the outside world as well, the Smith community rallied. Several alumnae posted a Web message board where others could check on the well-being of their Smith friends. The response was overwhelming; in the month following the terrorist attacks, the site had nearly 20,000 visitors. On its home page, the class of 1968 created a place for classmates to record reactions to the tragedy and descriptions of their experiences in the aftermath.
As a new phase of terrorism developed around the anthrax scare, the college took precautions with mail handling and examined its disaster and communications preparedness. As John Connolly said in a letter to Smith alumnae and the parents of Smith students: "These are dark days, but the Smith community has responded from the heart, the soul and the intellect, and we are moving forward."
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