September 11, 2001

Reacting to the bombing, the university did what it always does: Teach

By Michaele Birney ’90

On Friday, September 14, 2001, afternoon classes at the University of Puget Sound were cancelled, and the campus was called together to reflect on the week’s events. Later, nearly a dozen groups led by faculty met after the remembrance ceremony to discuss topics of relevance.

Members of the campus community began congregating on Todd Field just as a lone fighter plane heading from the nearby McCord Air Force Base on its northward course from the base toward Commencement Bay passed overhead. A student brass ensemble played several selections as approximately 1,500 gathered to reflect on the week’s events. As the brass ensemble concluded and the clock tower chimes noted the coming of the hour, another larger, commercial-type plane flew over, drawing eyes upward.

President Pierce welcomed those in attendance and asked for a moment of silence and remembrance for those whose lives had been lost or irrevocably shattered by the terrorist acts. Then, speaking of her own fears and attempts to understand the events of the Vietnam War in 1968, Pierce reflected on the poem "Musee des Beaux Arts" (the museum of fine arts) by Auden, which according to Pierce, illustrates that "the painfulness of the reality that even as some are suffering great tragedy, life for others goes on."

In continuing with life, however, Pierce urged the onlookers to react appropriately. "I hope that we each can also be true to those values that we as a college cherish," she said. "That we do reflect as well as feel; that we do seek to understand as well as to react emotionally; that we do not stereotype people, any people; that we do strive, as our mission statement puts it, ‘to meet the highest tests of democratic citizenship.’ And on a more personal note, I hope that we do not–either individually or as a community–give ourselves over to paralysis because those who have committed these heinous acts would have another kind of terrible victory."

ASUPS President David Bahar then addressed the group. "Questions burn in all of our minds," said Bahar. "Why did this happen? What are we to do now? We can attempt to rationalize what has happened in New York and Washington–we can try to make sense of it, but eventually more questions will arise. We, then, are left seeking to find some normalcy in this situation, but there is no normalcy to be found. We then are left to find meaning and truth."

Bahar also urged appropriate action. "Let us not look to each other for blame," he said. "Let us unite, let us show tolerance, respect and compassion. We must look beyond those things that separate us. The ties that bind us as a country, and as a people, must be nurtured, not neglected."

Staff and faculty senate chairs, Linda Critchlow-Tostevin and Hans Ostrom, respectively, also reflected on the events. Concluding their speeches, the Adelphian Concert Choir led the campus in singing "America the Beautiful." Many who had previously been able to keep their emotions in check openly wept during the two verses of the song, and hugged and supported each other for the next several minutes.

Following the ceremony, several faculty and staff from departments across campus led informal discussions on topics relevant to the week’s unfolding events. Topics ranged from differences between cultures to patriotism and loyalty to coming to terms with the tragedies. Some of the discussions were lively with participants spilling out of the classroom and into the hallway and others were reflective, quite discussions among just a few.

At a popular session led by Associate Professor of History Nancy Bristow on the topic of "Americans in Crisis" participants included students as well as faculty and staff. Reactions toward the events ranged from overwhelming feelings of helplessness to understanding the country’s strength in its diversity to desiring a form of retaliation.

LiAnna Davis ’04 noted the differences in perspective among different generations. "Several older men who remembered World War II compared the terrorists to termites that need to be extinguished. The next generation, who remembered Vietnam, were generally less apt to see violence as a solution. The younger students were almost uniformly against violence in any form," explained Davis. "Despite these differing views, however, everyone was able to listen to each other and tried to understand each other’s viewpoints."

In the group discussing "Globalization and the Differences Between Cultures," led by Jeff Matthews, assistant professor of business and public administration, understanding the relevance of past events became an issue when students pointed out that they had not yet been born when the Iran hostage situation broke out. Freshman students entering Puget Sound this year were most likely born between 1983 and 1984, at least two years after the hostages were released.

Continuing on into the afternoon, and again on Sunday, Sept. 16, a Reflective Circle was conducted in the Rotunda, giving campus community members the opportunity to quietly reflects on the week’s events and send written notes to citizens in New York and Washington, DC. Other campus activities spawning from the terrorist attacks included fund raisers held by student groups for the Red Cross and other relief organizations the hanging of a large remembrance and tolerance banner in the large Sequoia tree outside the Wheelock Student Center.