More than 250 people died in a plane crash in Queens, N.Y., Monday. But the reactions of many Yale students were muted — many said the death toll seemed insignificant in comparison with the thousands killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Many did not hear about the 9:17 a.m. crash of an American Airlines jet — which was bound for the Dominican Republic from Kennedy International Airport in New York — until hours after it fell to the ground in a residential neighborhood in Queens. And even after they heard, many students continued with their normal routines.
“I feel like Sept. 11 has kind of dampened what I think of as huge now,” said Candace Douglas ’04, a native of Queens.
While some students said they initially blamed the crash on terrorists, many now believe that a technical malfunction caused the crash.
“Initially when I didn’t know exactly what happened it was, ‘Oh no, the terrorists have hit again,’ but now I almost feel more relieved because this could have been so much grander than it is,” Douglas said.
Julie Chan ’05, who lives near the World Trade Center, said she knew little about the crash but had not been making an effort to find out.
“I think our country has been desensitized,” Chan said.
Quindlen Krovatin ’05 said this is only one of many plane crashes he has seen on television throughout his lifetime.
“They are all tragic and horrible, but they are just plane crashes,” he said.
Krovatin, who is from New York City, said the media is overreacting to the crash.
“In light of Sept. 11, people are looking to endow certain events with more gravity than they require,” Krovatin said.
While Krovatin said the crash is “another kick in the gut” for New York City, he said it is likely an accident and not related to the terrorist attacks to the World Trade Center two months and a day ago.
“Why would anyone [purposely] crash a plane in Queens?” said Fred Guerrier ’04, who lives a couple of miles from Monday’s crash site. “I just don’t think the location of the crash and the passengers on the plane suggest a terrorist attack.”
Roberto Valentin, a Dominican ambassador at large, said he believed 90 percent of the plane’s passengers were Dominican.
Patricia Pessar, a professor of ethnicity, race and migration, said Dominican immigrants are very transnational people, maintaining close relationships with families, friends and communities back in the Dominican Republic even after they emigrate to the United States. It is not surprising that so many Dominican immigrants were on the plane headed to Santo Domingo, she said.
But Pessar said the crash, regardless of the cause, will not deter Dominican immigrants from traveling to their home country in the long run.
“Initially I’m sure it has a chilling effect on travel,” Pessar said, “but these are people whose very lives and sense of identity and obligations to family and to friends outside of the U.S. necessitates maintaining contact.”
There are officially no Dominican students registered with the University, said Margaret Valentino, a senior administrative assistant at the Office of International Students and Scholars.
“There may be people [at Yale] who may have been born there but are now American citizens,” she added.
Yale President Richard Levin called the crash “a terrible tragedy,” with implications magnified by the events of Sept. 11.
“One way or the other, our imaginations are perhaps our worst enemy,” he said.
Stephen Skowronek, a professor of political and social sciences, agreed that the attacks of Sept. 11 have made the country more nervous, but said he does not know whether Monday’s crash is directly related to the terrorist attacks.
“If I said it was terrorism, tomorrow we would find out it wasn’t terrorism,” Skowronek said. “I have no idea.”
Lauren Worsham ’05 also knew little about the crash or its causes.
She said she did not hear about Monday’s morning crash until mid-afternoon, and she thought the plane crashed in Brooklyn, not Queens.
Worsham said she was not particularly concerned with getting accurate information.
“It’s a sad accident, but people are getting a little paranoid,” Worsham said.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report