Although five years have elapsed since September 11, 2001, I remember that day on the Willamette campus with remarkable clarity. The entire campus community convened at noon so that we might reflect on the significance of what had befallen our nation as well as offer support for ourselves, but especially for those who had friends and family in New York City, Washington, D.C., and on those terrible death planes.
Faculty members held regular classes in the morning, offering students the option of either leaving or using class time for open discussion. All afternoon academic activities were suspended. Residence halls held small discussion groups and our counseling staff was visible and vigilant. Students organized a candlelight vigil where they prayed and sang and cried and held hands and hugged each other.
Interestingly, in the four years prior to Sept. 11, Willamette’s first-year seminar, World Views, had been focused on the Middle East. Every incoming student studied three religions and read parts of the Koran as well as the Bible and the Hebrew Bible. There were a variety of campus cultural events, political speakers and other activities related to the Middle East.
When Sept. 11 occurred, Willamette’s World Views students were in the midst of the study of Ancient Greece. The following fall, the focus changed to War and its Alternatives, which was perhaps, in part, a response to the aftermath of Sept. 11 and, in part, an enhanced desire to investigate these fundamental questions with our students.
Generally, things have changed for all colleges and universities since Sept. 11, with complex new regulations and security measures. But despite greater scrutiny when applying for visas and a longer processing time, Willamette still attracts a wide variety of international students — this year, Willamette has 63 international students from 28 countries, including Afghanistan, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya and Mongolia. When we ask international students why they selected Willamette, they often say the same thing our American students say: that they felt important here and were struck by the realization that people at Willamette cared deeply about them and their education.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, remind us that we are part of the involuntary life that makes up the world and that we can neither look out on it from our luxurious shelter nor can we hide our eyes in selfish complaining.
We must act — with hope, with conscience and with compassion. As educators and educated people, we all must work for greater understanding between cultures and nations. We must use education as a tool to debunk myth and shatter prejudice, to strengthen connections between people and cultures, to foster a global culture that does not tolerate or accept violence as a viable means of solving problems.
For this generation of young people, Sept. 11 will forever be a point of reference, a marker — just as a presidential motorcade and a grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas, was a marker for my generation. This edition of The Scene features several essays and stories about Sept. 11 and related cultural issues from the perspectives of a diverse group of individuals from the Willamette community. I hope you will find them thought-provoking and insightful.
M. Lee Pelton