In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, Yale had become a different place — Frisbees were absent from Old Campus, and students sobbed, not smiled, as they spoke on cell phones.
The Yale community came together that evening at a powerful vigil on Cross Campus and through record participation in blood drives. Later, discussion expanded into the series “Democracy, Security and Justice: Perspectives on the American Future,” which was organized by history professor John Gaddis and Urban Academic Initiatives Office director Cynthia Farrar.
Speaking in front of a candlelit Cross Campus, Yale President Richard Levin comforted the community through a speech while University Chaplain Frederick Streets read a prayer.
“It was poignant,” Colin Bennett ’05 said. “It was appropriate. I thought they handled the matter very well — I remember during the day I couldn’t really do anything and I was just sitting around kind of distraught, and then afterwards I felt better and I was actually able to do some homework and stuff.”
Although all of Yale’s blood drives are scheduled a year in advance, the Omni hotel and Yale-New Haven Hospital were deluged with donors on Sept. 12, said Alba Fleming, account manager for the American Red Cross of the greater New Haven area.
The Yale community also responded to the terrorist attacks through a discussion series that emerged from consultation with Levin and faculty members, Gaddis said.
The series included distinguished speakers such as former U.S. Senator Gary Hart; James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly Journal; and Yale professors.
“The purpose was to respond to a sense that a lot of people had that the University should do something in response,” Gaddis said. “We wanted to create a forum in which distinguished outsiders, faculty and students could discuss, in a completely open way, without any party line, the implications of the attacks.”
Schuyler Schouten ’03, one of the student organizers, said the series was an effort to bring coherence to Sept. 11 reactions through lectures, panels, debates, Master’s Teas and meals with the speakers.
“The idea was to involve the University in a sustained, multidisciplinary conversation about where the country was going from here,” Schouten said. “We invited a host of experts from different fields — magazine editors, moral philosophers, policy mavens, literary critics, Middle East historians — as well as some of Yale’s best and most outspoken professors.”
Sara Hirschhorn ’03 said a group of students went to Gaddis’ house to discuss potential speakers for the lecture series.
“I think that everyone has been really interested in what students are thinking after Sept. 11,” Hirschhorn said. “[The lecture series] gave me new ways of thinking about it. It definitely was a thinking and learning experience.”
Hirschhorn said following the attacks on Sept. 11, students have wanted to resume their daily routines, but the attacks still influence the way people think and are often brought up in conversations.
Schouten said in an e-mail that students’ reactions to the attacks were particularly poignant.
“Everyone at Yale felt the urge to try to make sense of the attacks but few people really knew how to do it,” Schouten said. “For the students especially, there was a void — our generation had never experienced a national crisis.”