December 20, 2001

Cornell Reaches Out To the Community

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“[Sept. 11] changed our country in many ways, but the most striking affect on me personally came from seeing the monumental efforts made by so many in the University, the simple kindness, hearing people ask how they can help, the hugs, the thoughtful discussions.” said Sarah Simpkins, student services associate.

Cornell has reacted to Sept. 11 with the care of a family, wrapping its arms around the community by holding discussions, support groups, teach-ins and vigils. Hotlines, counselors and other support services were and still are being offered as well.

Before noon on Sept. 11, the Willard Straight Hall custodial staff had three televisions setup in the Memorial room, and the large room was made available all day for students to gather and to watch the unfolding news together. Soon after that, signs went up both in the Memorial Room and around the Straight to remind gatherers about Empathy, Assistance, and Referral Service (EARS).

The Cornell Community Support Team, a group of about 22 volunteers from areas across campus met every afternoon during the following week to discuss the events with students.

Prior to Sept. 11, the team met monthly to train themselves to respond in the case of a tragedy such as a student death, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett Health Center.

“[The Community Support Team] met every morning [after Sept.11] to get ready for the day and every afternoon to get ready for the next day,” Tanni Hall, associate dean of students, said. “We wanted to make sure we addressed the issue in a multifaceted and inclusive way.”

In an attempt to gather feelings from as many areas of the Cornell community as possible, the Community Support Team worked with numerous student groups, the International Students and Scholars Office, Cornell United Religious Works (CURW), students in the Business College, Muslim student groups and other organizations.

“We were trying to quickly get a sense of students with family members in the area so we could see who we might need to reach out to,” Simpkins said.

“We were so shocked ourselves that we didn’t know what we were dealing with, so we thought that we had just better be present so we could find out what it was and how we could help.”

In addition to the placement of televisions in Willard Straight Hall (WSH) and the increased hours of the EARS staff, other immediate actions taken by the University include the extension of Gannett’s professional mental health counseling hours to midnight, and a prayer vigil organized in part by CURW for the evening of Sept. 11.

By the afternoon of the next day, Sept. 12, Gannett Counseling and Psychological Services was offering group opportunities to process the traumatic events of the Spet. 11, while the administration and the Student

Assembly (S.A.) held a vigil for the entire community at 6:30 p.m.

“This to me was an amazing feat for a university that typically moves slowly

and cautiously. It was difficult by the end of that vigil not to feel like Cornell University was a caring and creative community,” Simpkins said.

One of the prayer vigils, organized partially by CURW for the evening of Sept. 11, was held on the balcony of Olin Library. An inter-faith vigil was also held on Wednesday, Sept 12, at Ho Plaza.

CURW has not done much in the way of follow-up services after the prayer vigils and talks held with various campus groups, according to Reverend Kenneth Clarke. On the days immediately after Sept. 11, chaplains were available at all times in the Chapel in Annabel Taylor Hall for counseling, but this service is no longer in effect.

“We have not implemented any ongoing programs or services because we have not gotten a great deal of demand for it,” Clarke said. “I feel that we have made the attempt to be responsive as much as we possibly can, but we are also looking for ways to be more helpful and further address any immediate needs or concerns as they come up.”

In retrospect, Clarke stated that the other services he attended were helpful, such as a panel discussion held at the Africana Studies and Research Center, a unity hour at the Ujuamma House, and numerous other prayer functions, including the University’s memorial service on Thursday.

At Gannett, support group usage has declined as well in the weeks after Sept. 11, and extra aid sessions are no longer being offered.

“We tried to offer support groups for the aftermath of Sept 11, but that did

not seem to be what the students wanted, so we only held them for the week after,” Dittman said. “But [extra support groups] are still a possibility for next semester if they are needed.”

Individual counseling services have experienced increased use, however,

according to Dittman. She noted that usage is usually up at this time of year due to the weather and the stress of the semester’s end, but this year things seemed especially hectic. For students who do not want counseling but are looking for some advice, Gannett has a section on its website dedicated to dealing with tragedy. The information was distributed in paper form directly after Sept. 11, and now conveniently exists online.

Another part of Gannett’s community outreach was an open discussion for

resident advisors to talk about their own experience and the ways in which

their residents were impacted.

“We got immediate feedback from the RA’s that was incredibly helpful,” Dittman said.

Teach-ins were another outlet through which the University provided aid to the Cornell community. The first of the series was held in Kennedy’s David L. Call Auditorium on Sept. 17.

“The major intent [of the teach-in] is to try to shed light on these events and to provide experts [to] inform the community generally; and at the same time offer an outlet for the community to raise its issues and concerns,” President Hunter R. Rawlings III told The Sun in a previous interview.

Much of the present concern on the Cornell campus hovers over anthrax and war, issues not to be overlooked.

“We want to be prepared to deal with anthrax, but we also want to put [anthrax] in perspective for people,” Dittman said. “[Anthrax] is a much smaller health risk to any individual than many other things we are confronted with regularly, but unfamiliar risks take time and support to be able to accept.”

Dittman also said that Gannett is preparing to medically deal with anthrax should Cornell be faced with an outbreak, as well as dealing with the mental fears some have over the disease.

Cornell will continue to make strides to aid students in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

“We know this is not a blip on the screen, we can all feel our world has changed,” Dittman said.

With this change comes a change in how Cornell shows support. The larger organizations on campus took it upon themselves to offer aid, as did individual professors who lessened homework loads or postponed exams to allow students to process what happened.

“I really think Cornell has been so responsive, everyone is so caring and ready to figure out what needs to be done, because all of us were impacted, and this is reflected in everyone. There is an increased willingness to be present, and to respond to the need that we all have,” Hall said.

Archived article by Rachel Einschlag