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September 17, 2001

Community finds support from within

By Eric Rangus


Oxford College banded together as a community to absorb and react to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Twice that terrible day, at noon and at 4 p.m., Oxford students, faculty and staff gathered in the Chapel to try and come to terms with the events of the morning.

“The mood was shock,” said Joe Moon, Oxford’s associate dean for Campus Life. “It was a coming together, and I think our diversity helped. We had students of Arabic background and Jewish background speaking up and supporting each other.”

At the noon event, students were encouraged to light candles in the Chapel as readings were given from multiple faiths—Christian, Islam, Jewish and Buddhist, to name a few.

The 4 p.m. gathering was more formal with the music of Grace Lim on piano and Han Oh on guitar and vocals to accompany the readings.

“It was affirming in terms of looking for meaningful ways to deal with this tragedy,” said Oxford Chaplain Darryl Barrow.

That night, at 8 p.m. in the dining hall, the Oxford community met again. More than 500 students—nearly all the college’s population—were among the attendees packing the hall. Deans Dana Greene and Moon, Barrow, Adriane Ivey of the Oxford English department, and Sandra Schein, director of Oxford’s counseling center, all addressed the crowd, as did Samar Uthman, a Palestinian-American student from Miami.

Uthman urged fellow students not to buy into the media’s negative portrayal of Palestinians, as some were shown celebrating the attack in the Middle East. The panel then opened the floor to whomever wanted to share their thoughts.

“I was just immensely proud of this community,” Greene said, adding that—like Moon—Oxford’s diversity strengthens the campus. Several Muslim students spoke, expressing support (and receiving it as well).

Another student came forward to say her parents were injured in the attack but had made it to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and would be fine. That personalized the tragedy for a lot of people.
Barrow said many students of Middle Eastern background expressed feelings of comfort on campus, but that they were nervous about reactions in the wider community—not just in Oxford and neighboring Covington, but in the nation as a whole.

“My reaction is [that] we not get hysterical and look for premature blame or retribution,” Barrow said. “That way, there could be even more horror. Our prayers need to be for the victims and their families and also for the witnesses of this tragedy. I pray for our political and military leaders to have the courage to lead us through this.”

Oxford has a crisis plan to deal with tragedies such as student death or even a major building fire, but Moon said a tragedy on the scale of the events of Sept. 11 is impossible to anticipate.

But, according to Moon, the closeness of the Oxford community is one of the things that will help it deal with the tragedy. That feeling played a role in Oxford students returning class on Wednes-day, Sept. 12—one day earlier than their Atlanta campus counterparts.

“One reason we had classes was that we thought being with the teachers would be a good thing,” Moon said. “When this happened, a lot of teachers pushed their books aside and said, ‘Let’s talk about this.’”

Support events continued as well. The Black Student Alliance held a vigil Sept. 12, drawing about 50 members of the Oxford community.

As events were unfolding Sept. 11, the counseling center distributed materials about how to deal with tragedy and pre-and post-traumatic stress. It also opened its doors for walk-in consultations—normally counseling is by appointment only.

Residence hall staff members, as well, increased their profile in the Oxford dorms but approached students less formally, talking with them alone or in pairs.

Schein said she is working with students and Oxford staff and faculty to set up volunteer efforts to assist victims in New York and Washington. “We’re trying to create ways to deal with this feeling of helplessness,” she said. Formal plans are being sketched out on a day-to-day basis.


Back to Emory Report September 17, 2001