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After a tense and difficult day trying to get in touch with family and friends, many Harvard students affected by yesterday’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon gathered for a University-wide vigil on the steps of Memorial Church last night which attracted more than 3000 members of the Harvard community.
Many had spent the day trying to reach family members and friends, while others stayed glued to television, radios, and the Internet to learn about the latest developments.
Across campus, early phone calls from parents roused many students from their beds.
“My mom called and forced my roommate to wake me up,” said Eugene Chislenko ’04. “I believed her barely enough to go watch it on television.”
“At first, I just laughed. I thought it was another stupid little crash like that parachute over the Statue of Liberty,” said Mark J. Stanisz ’05. “But then the [New York Times] website started crashing, and I saw that something was very wrong.”
Some students were registering for classes in Sever Hall or en route to meetings and rehearsals in preparation for the first day of shopping period when they heard the news.
Rachel S. Weinerman ’03 was waiting in line when a proctor running registration received a call on her cell phone after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center tower.
“She had a look of shock on her face. Then she announced it to the room,” Weinerman said.
First thoughts went to family and friends who lived and worked in New York or Washington D.C., but communication was often difficult.
“Everyone I know is in Manhattan,” Chislenko said. “Not being able to phone home unnerved me.”
Students frustrated with saturated phone lines and malfunctioning cell phones resorted to e-mail and Instant Messenger.
“I have some family members who might have been in the World Trade Center that we haven’t heard from yet,” said Darryl K. Dove ’02. “It’s been hard because cell phones and land phones are down, but I’ve seen people on IM all morning.”
Charlie Cromwell ’02, an Army ROTC member, failed to get through to military personnel in Washington.
“I worked in that wing of the Pentagon this summer, and I haven’t been able to get through to my coworkers,” Cromwell said. “I have no idea if they’re okay.”
Even students who did not have family or friends in the affected area were struck by the scope and severity of the disaster.
“My uncle flies the Boston-LaGuardia shuttle, and he flew it a couple of times last night. It’s shocking that people so close to me could have been killed,” said Teresa A. Lind ’03.
Most Houses and first-year dorm common rooms set up televisions where students and tutors gathered to watch the news, while others listened to radios or logged on to news sites to stay informed.
“We threw on our clothes, went over to Matthews, and watched it unfold,” said Joshua M. Mendelsohn ’05, who learned about the attacks from an aunt working for the State Department. “We watched [the news] for two hours before we finally came to our senses and went to Annenberg.”
Many students felt that their sense of safety was destroyed by yesterday morning’s events.
“Being an American, you have a feeling you’re invincible,” said Azhar N. Richmond ’05.
“This could mean a new wave of isolationism, which is sad but necessary,” Cromwell said.
International students, meanwhile, reassured parents about their immediate safety.
“My family called from Turkey and they were really worried about me. My dad told me to get money out of the bank,” said Zeynep D. Darendeliler ’05. “ We have this kind of stuff going on in Turkey all the time. Two days ago, there was a suicide bomber in a very public place where I always hang out [in Istanbul.] Every place I go seems to explode.”
Besides dealing with his own concerns about family and friends, Adams resident tutor Jamie Ciocco ’94 worked on behalf of his students. He compiled a list of Adams residents from the affected areas for distribution to other tutors and posted updated information about blood drives on the Adams website.
“Obviously it’s hard to tell who is going to be affected by this at this time, but we want to be armed with the only information we have available,” he said. “So many things were going through our minds, apart from people living in New York. We were concerned with how it affects Muslim students and the possibility of backlash against them, [and] for Jewish students and the backlash against them.”
Students across campus expressed similar concerns about ethnic backlash. Vahid H. Zadeh ’04, a British ethnic Iranian, said he has already heard some racially charged remarks.
“I hope I don’t get clumped into the whole Arab stereotype,” he said. “I was listening to Howard Stern this morning on the radio and he was ranting with venom in his voice that all Arabs should be nuked.”
Harvard Islamic Society president Saif I. Shah Mohammed ’02 sent an e-mail message to members warning them to be careful.
“After previous incidents of this nature,” he wrote, “there have been strong, sometimes violent backlashes against Arabs and Muslims.”
Community and respect were the main themes at the Memorial Church vigil last night, which featured Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes and University President Lawrence H. Summers as speakers.
“I have no special words of wisdom to offer at a moment like this,” Summers told the crowd that spilled out onto sidewalks and into Tercentenary Theatre. “I can only offer words of comfort to those who have been affected by these tragic events.”
But for most students, last night was too soon for comfort.
“When something like this happens, you can’t go on with your everyday life but you can’t do anything else,” Chislenko said.
--Staff writer Eugenia V. Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Staff writer Eugenia B. Schraa can be reached at email@example.com.
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