The Collegian
Saturday, February 24, 2024

University staff reflect on 9/11 sentiments

Ten years ago on Sept. 11, three Richmond staff members were in shock and disbelief over what was occurring in the nation. One was coming to work, one was leaving a meeting and one was in an office, yet all were unnerved.

Westhampton Dean Juliette Landphair, who was the assistant director of Women Involved in Living and Learning at the time, said she had just dropped her children off at day care and had been heading to campus when she heard a radio announcer say it looked as if a small plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Her first thought was that it was some sort of accident until she walked into the deanery and saw the Westhampton staff gathered around watching the news, she said.

"We just sat and watched and were stunned," she said. "All work, all the normal practices of the university just sort of stood still for a couple hours as everybody tried to process what was happening."

Landphair said that afternoon she had taught her women's studies class and had spent the whole class talking about what had happened and trying to piece it together. She said the students in her class from Washington, D.C., and New York were particularly shaken by the attack.

"I think the layers, for them, were deeper just because this was not just about confusion and anger around a terrorist attack on our country, but for them it was specifically something that was an attack on their sense of place," Landphair said.

Landphair said although Sept. 11 had redefined the way Americans saw things around them, it also had increased our cultural understanding of different faiths and began cross-cultural dialogs that were really much more significant than they had been in the past.

Tina Cade, associate vice president for student development who was director of the office of multicultural affairs at the time, said she had been leaving a meeting when she first heard of the attack from someone who had a mini TV in their office. She said she had been initially surprised and nervous.

"My mother is in Washington," Cade said. "Washington is my home, so then it was very personal. Independent of being an American and being shocked, sad, angry and nervous, I was just concerned about the people that I loved being there.

"We were getting ready to move into another dimension, from my perspective, because I've never seen a war up close and personal but when you think they're bombing your home, that's about as personal as it gets."

As the initial shock settled, Cade said her concern had been for Richmond students and alumni and supporting the needs of those affected by lost loved ones.

Cade said this had not been an angry time but rather a time when people had been trying to process what had happened.

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Looking back now, Cade said despite the horrible loss, people had become more united.

"Even though it was a very sad time, it was a time when people came together," Cade said. "It was a time when it just didn't matter where you were from what color you were or what social class you were part of. The superficial things that tend to categorize people just kind of fell apart. They fell to the wayside and there was just a sense of tremendous compassion."

Peter LeViness, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, was director of the counseling center at Tulane University in 2001.

"It was your typical busy day with appointments and meetings," he said. The front desk attendant alerted LeViness that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

"I was just envisioning some propeller, small twin engine plane and something weird happening to the pilot causing the plane to crash into the building," he said. Then the attendant told the office staff another plane had hit the towers, he said.

"I couldn't believe it was happening," he said. "Is this real? It seemed like a nightmare. Who would do this? There was a whole host of questions and uncertainties."

Because he was in charge of the counseling center, LeViness said he had had to quickly assess what services the university community would need.

"We were trying to give the message to take care of yourself, turn to your loved ones, involve your family and friends, make sure they know you're all right and know what you're going through," he said.

LeViness said about a quarter of the students at Tulane had been from the Northeast.

"The dean's offices and housing were trying to identify who lost someone and who they could reach out to," he said. "A lot of people just didn't know because people were just missing. Most people waited for weeks before they gave up hope that they would ever find them. A lot of people held out hope for a long time.

"It was a cultural loss, a cultural shock, that we were all affected by it."

LeViness said he had encouraged students to limit how much news they watched because of the constant coverage and recap of the planes hitting the towers.

"It was kind of a mix of horrendous tragedy and heroic actions," he said. "It was horrible all that happened and all the loss of life. In response to that, so many people did heroic things, or showed compassion or reached out and brought the country together in a way that it hadn't been before."

Contact staff writer Sarah Bowers at sarah.bowers@richmond.edu

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