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October 29, 2001

Technology sustains community in crisis

Scott Sawyer is educational analyst for the Information Technology Division.



It was Sept. 11, and the radio’s regular programming was interrupted by news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Throughout campus, the word spread as faculty, staff and students followed the breaking story that terrorists had attacked New York and the nation’s capital.

In campus classrooms, building commons and hospital rooms, people gathered around televisions. Throughout the day and in the weeks that followed, television, radio, the Internet, e-mail and campus networks all played critical roles in fostering community—bringing the campus together to understand and begin healing the wounds.

Through the Emory cable television system, faculty, staff and students viewed the unfolding story live. The administration announced over e-mail that University classes were suspended. A LearnLink crisis site, e-mail discussion boards and online campus forums offered virtual settings for words of encouragement, information on volunteer opportunities, campuswide counseling locations, and notification of an evening prayer vigil. The Association of Emory Alumni sent an e-mail to all alumni detailing the University’s response.

With Washington and New York’s telecommunications infrastructure damaged and clogged, e-mail provided an immediate and direct connection from Atlanta, and played a valuable role in communicating with friends and family.

Meha Desai is a first-year graduate student from Long Island, New York. “I sent out e-mail [to New York] because I couldn’t get through on the cell phone,” she said. “My friends were hooked up to their computers, and most of them checked in by e-mail saying they were okay. In that sense it was good, a relief.”

Following national news of acts of ethnic intolerance, on Sept. 15 President Bill Chace issued a campuswide e-mail statement on unity and compassion. Student organizations circulated a statement drafted by four Emory alumni (Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish) that became an emblem of student solidarity, receiving endorsements from 124 organizations and 18 universities across America.

“Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” the statement said. “Our capacity to love and respect people of every faith and creed is the cornerstone that makes our society great.”
Like e-mail, the Internet and television played critical roles in helping the Emory community cope with the tragedy. Students followed the events as they unfolded. The Wheel’s website also provided alumni with a window into the campus’ actions.

Emory students appeared on CNN’s “Talkback Live” to discuss their perspectives on reports of violence and intolerance against Muslim Americans and Arab Americans. Emory faculty also appeared on local and national news broadcasts to offer their political and cultural expertise.

A website on “National Tragedy and Our Community” was created on Emory’s homepage to provide links and resources. “The website was designed to provide a place where the Emory community could go to find out information including campus events, statements from the administration, public forums and news about the tragedy,” said John Mills, executive web producer. “The response to the site has been very positive as a valuable resource in an uncertain time.”

Two days after the tragedy, President Jimmy Carter’s 20th annual Town Hall Meeting was held in the P.E. Center and broadcast live on Emory cable television, with overflow viewing sites in the Dobbs Center and White Hall.

Television at its best told stories of heroes, suffering and patriotism. Cable news networks offered perspectives and analyses from leaders. It was the worst of crises, but throughout Sept. 11 and the days that followed, traditional and emerging technologies served the Emory community by connecting us to one another, to others in America, and to the world.

For updated information on Emory’s response, visit the “National Tragedy and Our Community Website” at


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