Just a short click from the University’s main website is a network of thousands of Cornell alumni which operates solely to let everybody who wants to know that the participating former students are ‘okay.’ In light of last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks focused on New York City, this internet service takes on a far greater significance.
Last Wednesday, University administrators and the office of Alumni Affairs and Development decided to create a website that would allow Cornell alumni affected by the destruction in lower Manhattan, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., to post their information and let loved ones know that they are alive.
“We felt that our alumni would welcome a means to communicate with each other,” said Ingeborg T. Reichenbach, vice president of alumni affairs and development. Reichenbach said she decided to create the site as a way to help, “people reach out to each other.”
Through the creation of this website, thousands of alumni have done just that. Approximately 4,000 people have posted their names on the site and even more have e-mailed the alumni office, including Reichenbach herself, with well-wishes and praise for giving them the opportunity to find out the status of their loved ones.
“The number [of people on the page] really proves that there was a need for this. We got around 9,000 e-mails back, the overwhelming majority just saying, ‘what a wonderful thing this has been’ just have to this [website],” she said.
Reichenbach noted that just after the attacks, top University administrators held a meeting and decided on what would be best for the Cornell community during this time of high anxiety. Along with numerous other support services — including the establishment of the Sept. 11 Disaster Relief fund and Scholarship Fund — President Hunter R. Rawlings III agreed that this was one service that should also be accessible to Cornell’s alumni.
“We were motivated to enable alumni to contact each other in short notice. It was a way for them to stay in touch with each other and a way for us to stay in touch with them,” Rawlings said.
Along with Reichenbach, he feels that the website performed one simple task: giving people a medium to speak out and show their support and concern for the situation.
“It gives people an outlet for response. We’ve had many, many people say how grateful they are that we have provided this,” Rawlings added.
Keith Kubarek, communications webmaster for the alumni office, also understands the importance of the website because, although simple in design, it provides a very critical function in the lives of those affected.
“A logical place to look [for loved ones] would be the alumni website because of the strong relations with Cornell that alumni have,” Kubarek said.
Similar to other ‘I’m Okay’ message boards, such as one run by prodigy.net, the website enables the individual to have her/his name, year of graduation and e-mail address posted alphabetically. This way anyone can access one’s information and, more importantly, the piece of mind to know that one is safe.
It is this piece of mind that Kubarek is pleased to offer to the community through the site’s fundamental technology.
“It’s fairly straightforward,” he said.
Set up on two servers, the site operates by having alumni enter an e-mailed password in order to enter names onto a list.
Since Wednesday’s meeting, the site’s creation took only four days after Kubarek’s associate, Brian Higgins, contacted as many alumni by e-mail as could be found.
Now that those who have benefited from the website send positive feedback, Kubarek and administrators feel that this service was a necessity.
“The website has never seen this much traffic. A really good feeling has been generated by this [network],” Kubarek said.
“They are very grateful with it and thousands of alumni have contacted the site,” Rawlings added.
Feelings will continue to change as casualty numbers from the attacks increase along with the numbers for the Cornell community. As of today, one Cornellian has been identified as having died due to the attacks although Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service, notes that the University will not announce any person’s death without “strong family [support].”
For those continuing to search for loved ones, the website also states that just because a name isn’t on the list, “doesn’t mean that the person is not okay,” it just means that their information has not been posted.
As Kubarek concluded, “[the website] is one more source [of information].”
Archived article by Carlos Perkins