November 13, 2001

Sept. 11 Brought a Changed Cornell Campus

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College students from the University of Michigan adorn this week’s Newsweek cover as the magazine attempts to examine the effects of Sept. 11 on college students, a generation it characterizes as “the kids who grew up with peace and prosperity [who] are facing their defining moment.”

At Cornell, the lasting impact of Sept. 11 is illustrated by continuous fund-raising and blood drives for the Red Cross, anti-war protests on Ho Plaza, and anthrax scares. According to David Yeh, vice president of the University Registrar, approximately 25 students currently enrolled at Cornell lost family members or friends in the World Trade Center attacks. All of these students and are receiving support from Gannett and the University.

Three students have been called to active duty for the National Guard or Reserve and all have received tuition refunds. In addition, all students in the Washington D.C., New York City, and abroad programs are accounted for and no student was directly affected.

In addition to these outward signs of the tragedy’s impact, Newsweek also examined the internal effects of the aftermath. According to the magazine’s poll, 16 percent of students surveyed said they were “a lot more worried” about their economic future since the Sept. 11 attacks and the recent anthrax scares. Twenty-three percent responded that they were “somewhat more worried,” and three percent answered that, as a result of concerns about terrorism since Sept. 11, they had consulted with a healthcare professional to help cope with stress, anxiety or depression, or had taken prescription medicines used for depression or anxiety disorders.

Cornell students have shown a similar trend, according to Associate Director of Gannett Sharon Dittman.

“On Sept. 11, we had no idea of what to expect. We were bracing for a lot of students to come in and ask for help, but it was really quiet,” she said. Dittman added that many of her colleagues at other universities, including New York University, shared her sentiment.

According to Dittman, the number of students coming to Gannett for the sole purpose of seeking counseling for anxiety or health concerns relating to the tragedy has not significantly increased. However, she said that students already seeking professional help for depression or anxiety and those currently coming in with medical problems have expressed increased concerns since the tragedy.

“For these students already dealing with problems, Sept. 11 added a whole new dimension and may have had a more serious effect,” Dittman said.

The recent anthrax scares in Warren Hall and Uris Library added another dimension to the impact of Sept. 11, according to Dittman. Although Gannett received close to a dozen calls from students concerned about their exposure to anthrax at Warren Hall, Dittman stated that most calls have been from students’ parents or faculty.

“My observation has been that the anthrax scare nationally and locally seems to be more difficult for older adults than Cornell students. Cornell students seem to be ‘let’s sit back and see what happens,’ while adults are worried whether their child or their worksite has been affected,” Dittman said.

Newsweek tried to measure the heightened sense of anxiety by looking at trends in religious attendance and participation. According to its poll, 30 percent of students surveyed said that they had prayed or attended religious services more often since Sept. 11.

At Cornell, there was a large turnout of students at the prayer vigil at the first anniversary mark of the Sept. 11 tragedy, noted Philip Fiadino, a Catholic chaplain for the Cornell Catholic Community.

“Because trauma hits collectively, it is natural for humans to respond by seeking comfort in prayer and God,” Fiadino said.

Fiadino has not, however, noticed a large surge in participants in weekly services in the last month.

“It is a good thing that students settled back into their routines,” he said. “Routines are sources of comfort, and the routines were broken [by the attacks of Sept. 11].”

Rabbi Ed Rosenthal reports a similar trend in religious participation at Cornell’s Jewish services.

“There was initially an increase in attendance the two weeks following Sept. 11, but I have seen a steady stream of people after services since then,” Rosenthal said.

Other campus organizations have also been affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy. Scott Belsky ’02, president of Cornell Entrepreneur Organization (CEO) and Cornell University Investment Club and Portfolio (CUIC), found an increase in attendance in at CEO’s meetings and a decrease in attendance at CUIC’s meetings.

“Wall Street used to be glamorous to Cornell students, but since Sept. 11, it is less exciting,” Belsky said. “The attacks affected our way of life at Cornell and people are beginning to rethink what they want to do and where they want to be.”

Belsky believes that the increase in CEO’s attendance is due to the worsening of the economy as well the increased desires of students to work for themselves since the attacks.

In addition to the fluctuating attendance rates in business organizations on campus, there has also been a changing relationship between particular groups. Abby Kornfeld ’02, president of Cornell Hillel, said that the relationship between Hillel and Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA) has been altered. At a community service organized by both groups last weekend Kornfeld said, “There was an increased sense of camaraderie. People did not want to discuss politics, but instead wanted to get to know each other better.”

Unlike other universities examined by Newsweek, Cornell has not added specific undergraduate courses focusing on issues that have arisen since Sept. 11. “There are a rich array of courses at Cornell that highlight the complicated issues we face,” Yeh said.

Prof. Richard Polenberg, history, said he would not be surprised if courses were eventually added to discuss the issues relevant to the September tragedy. Polenberg recalled classes added during the time of Vietnam War to address the relevant issues of the time.

“When one teaches a course in modern day history, anything that happens in society ought to be incorporated in the class,” he added.

The impact of Sept. 11 on college students and the University setting itself is likely to continue in the future.

As the Newsweek article states, “It is too soon to tell whether 2001 will be more like 1941, when campuses were united, or 1966, when there was a beginning of a historic rift.”

Archived article by Jamie Yonks