After the blast came the silence.
Two hours after the bloodiest terrorist attack in American history, the sun was still shining down on a lovely late summer day, but the lawns and courtyards across Yale’s campus stood empty, blanketed by an eerie silence.
Among the few who still lingered on the plazas or flagstone walks, the news of the devestation in New York and Washington seemed to have severed all capacity for communication. Old friends walked three abreast, enveloped in mental solitude, seemingly oblivious to the presence of their companions.
Frantic students stood, as if severed from their surroundings, fingering cell phones like rosaries, waiting for relief. More often than not, they couldn’t get through to family and friends at all.
Even the usually deafening racket of construction on Grove Street seemed to have been stilled. The incessant beeping of trucks in reverse was nearly masked by the voices of newscasters, blaring from construction radios, unifying laborers and students with a common obsession.
Two students and a custodian sat in the Silliman College buttery, divisions of age seemingly levelled. At length the older man broke the silence. “Is this the worst thing that’s ever happened in the world?” he asked.
Said Laurie Quimby, wife of the Davenport dean: “This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.”
News of this morning’s attacks left administrators visibly shaken and scrambling to help students and faculty cope.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said classes would not be cancelled, but some professors chose on their own to not to hold class. Shopping period will be lengthened and will last until Thursday, Sept. 20 for freshman and sophomores and Friday, Sept. 21, Brodhead said.
“Classes will bring comfort and support and some measure of normality,” Brodhead said.
Faculty have been asked to discuss today’s tragedy in the classroom if they feel it appropriate. Non-essential staff are being allowed to leave work to attend to family.
The deans of all of Yale’s eleven schools met with Levin, Office of Public Affairs director Helaine Klasky and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead this morning at Woodbridge Hall to discuss Yale’s response to the attacks. Yale said in a statement that in the wake of the tragedy the University will continue to operate as normally as possible. The administration will meet again today at 5 p.m. to assess the situation, Levin said.
Yale President Richard Levin and University Chaplain Frederick Streets will speak at a campus-wide vigil at 8 p.m. on Cross Campus.
Health services will be available all day and health liaisons will be available in each of the colleges, said University Health Services psychiatrist in chief Lorriane Siggins. The Yale chaplain’s office also will have extended hours today.
Local blood banks are conducting a major drive tomorrow to help meet the expected jump in demand for blood in the region.
Trumbull Dean Laura King said her college will host a meeting at 7 p.m., and other colleges are doing the same.
“Our chief concern is for students who are worried about possible loss,” King said.
Secret Service officials would not answer questions about the status of Barbara Bush ’04, the president’s daughter.
Assistant athletic director Steve Conn said that he had contacted the athletic department at Towson University regarding the possible cancellation of Saturday’s game at the Maryland school. Towson closed today at 1:30 p.m. in the aftermath of this morning’s events.
For all of the logistical repercussions arising from today’s horrific attacks, the tragedy was felt most acutely on the human level.
In Davenport’s TV room, 20 students huddled on couches, watching the skyscrapers on the screen collapse time and time again. One boy had an arm draped around a girl’s bare shoulder, but eye contact seemed as impossible as conversation. Some jaws were rigid, others slack. All the eyes were the same — numb, emotionless, riveted.
A few feet outside the door, Jon Bettin ’04 remained in the fetal position, his back to a pillar, his baseball cap pulled low over his bloodshot eyes. He was one of the lucky ones.
“My uncle used to work at the WTC but left six months ago,” he said. “I called my mom; she heard from all my relatives and they’re all OK,” he added, his voice choked.
A friend stopped by, punched him affectionately in the shoulder, checking in without looking him in the face.
Of Yale’s approximately 130,000 alumni, about 12,500 Yale graduates live within 20 to 30 miles of Manhattan and about 7,500 live near Washington, D.C., said Jeff Brenzel, executive director of the Yale Alumni Association. He said Yale would not hear until later this week about Yale alumni who might be victims of today’s attacks.
Because of Yale’s proximity to New York and traditional ties to Washington, many students and alumni were left hoping for the best. Neither AYA nor Undergraduate Career Services had a complete listing of which Yale alumni work at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.
“I live in New York. My best friends’ parents are dead,” Brad Rosen ’04 said. “Invariably everyone knows someone who works there. My entire family lives in the city. We were supposed to have a wedding this Saturday at the pier.”
Jay Hallen ’01, who is living and working in Washington, said he was shaken by both attacks.
“It’s absolutely horrifying. We had heard about the WTC, had watched CNN, and then someone in my office screamed and pointed out the window and we saw the black smoke from the Pentagon, just about three minutes after the crash. My office is three blocks from the White House, and the streets were chaotic,” Hallen said. “I can’t express how stunned I am, especially when I saw the WTC fall. I almost wanted to cry. But we’ll move on.”
Hallen is a former sports editor for the News.
Administrators and faculty were scurrying around campus Tuesday afternoon, with very little to say about the devastating events. Former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott ’68, just months ago at the highest levels of government, now director of Yale’s new Center for the Study of Globalization, could be seen riding frantically on a bicycle, visibly distraught. Other Yale officials were concerned about faculty members they know who had relatives working in the World Trade Center.
Yale professors condemned today’s attacks. Professor William Odom, a former chief of the National Security Agency, was stunned.
“It’s warfare,” Odom said. “That’s all there is to say.”
Charles Hill, a visiting fellow with a distinguished record of service in the U.S. government and in the United Nations, said the attack must be treated with the utmost seriousness.
“It’s an attack on the nation. It’s kind of a modern version of Pearl Harbor. And it’s mass murder,” Hill said. “It has to be treated as an act of war.”
He also said there might be conflict with another state.
“It seems highly unlikely that it could have been brought off without the help of a foreign regime,” Hill said.
Political science professor Ellen Lust-Okar said the country should reserve judgement until the culprits have been found.
Rachel Alpert ’02 and Derek Leung ’03, who stood outside of Woolsey Hall, spoke softly about the day’s events like many students around campus.
“It’s just like a horror film. It seems surreal,” Alpert said.
She found out while she was in her room when her friend instant messaged her. Leung said he found out from a teacher, and that although being a student can sometimes insulate Yalies from outside news that it doesn’t mean that much now.
“It doesn’t mean it hits you any less hard. It’s just weird,” Leung said.
In Commons there was a much quieter crowd than usual at 11:30. Brian Kim ’04 said he had a class cancelled and was walking home to Branford when he saw somebody sitting on a curb weeping. “I’m never going to forget that,” Kim said. He was sitting in the Woolsey Rotunda wearing his Mixed Company shirt and waiting for a rush meal.
“It’s going to be hard to maintain the quote-unquote ‘spirit of rush,'” Kim said. “It’s kind of hard to do this with this pall cast over it.”
Staff reporters Rebecca Dana, Elyssa Folk, Bret Ladine, Jeremy Licht, Matt Matera, Chris Michel, Louise Story and Taryn Williams contributed to this report.