by Terry Birdsall
photography by Liz Lucsko and Juan Garcia
Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs, like millions of Americans, recalls what she was doing the day the World Trade Center towers were hit by airplanes. She had just finished seat-belting her 4-year-old daughter Lorali in to the car when her husband Ali came out to tell her what happened. Her original plans were to take her daughter to the fair walk at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds but plans changed when she heard about the attacks. She told her daughter that she could not go to the fair. A disappointed Lorali asked why. The dean explained that “two buildings have fallen down, and the whole world is worried about it.” Throughout the day and week, unusual events such as school closing early and flags being displayed everywhere caused Lorali to ask more questions. Each time her mother would remind her about the buildings that fell down. Lorali never saw the pictures of the planes hitting the towers because she is only allowed to watch cartoons for one hour on Saturday mornings and an occasional movie on video.
Children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Rahmani’s sister, a preschool director, gave her a list of what to say and do for her daughter. The list ideas included “to limit television exposure because children don’t know it’s a rerun, be honest, let them talk, listen and set examples of how not to have cultural biases.” A Business Week article on Oct. 1 states, “Children can have nightmares, wet the bed or feel a loss of security worrying about the death of their parents. It’s important to return them to their normal routine as soon as possible.”
“United we stand” are words that have regained significance in the lives of Americans since the attack against the nation on Sept. 11. People across the country are re-evaluating life as they once knew it. Things that seemed important now have little value. Many have a new perspective on life.
“What really is important is spending time with my family,” says Derek Vergara, executive director for the institute for multicultural research and campus diversity. Canceling a business trip two days before leaving is out of character for him. “My work is who I am,” explains Vergara. He says he wasn’t afraid to fly. Instead, he was concerned for his family and what they were thinking since the terrorist attacks and anthrax scare. “I would rather you not go, but if you need to-go,” says his wife. “What’s important to me is how you feel,” says Vergara. Life for the Vergara’s, as well as for other Americans is more precious now and is not taken for granted.
Many foreign college students from the Middle East were frightened about repercussions in America after the attacks and have returned home to be with their families. An Oct. 5 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education written by Beth McMurtrie states that “Arab students in the United States headed for home due to increasing hostility, but Americans studying overseas are largely staying put, for now.” Although there were no immediate threats to their safety, the students were pressured by their parents to return home. According to Phil Hofer, ULV director of international student services, the students themselves are not sure they want to study here due to possible interrogations by the police or the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Even if the students are innocent, they might be accused of doing something wrong.” One ULV student is concerned about the visa being tightened because he travels frequently back and forth across the Mexican border to visit his family. Enrique Gutierrez, a Mexican student, explained that the inspections are more detailed, lines are longer, and it takes up to seven hours to get across the border. “I understand why, but at the same time you feel like a criminal.” Currently, there has been no change in the “F” visa law that allows international students to move from one university to another. “The greatest impact on the international students is the uncertainty that they will be able to come back to finish their studies after visiting home,” says Hofer.
Veronica Moncayo, ULV foreign student from Ecuador, was surprised by the terrorist attacks but not necessarily amazed. In her country, terrorism is a part of life so she is used to it. “No one understands the way others feel unless they go through that themselves. What amazed me most was the shock from the people here when they know what is going on in other parts of the world,” says Moncayo.
A survey report by the Rand Corporation published in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 15 recommends “the need for quick response by counselors, teachers and clergy to help people deal with disasters, even for people far from the attack sites.”
The administrators of the University of La Verne made the decision to keep the University open the morning of Sept. 11. Local law enforcement officials confirmed there was no immediate danger to the University. “We felt the campus environment would provide an ideal setting for conversations about feelings, events and possible outcomes of the day’s disasters,” says president of the university Stephen Morgan. A variety of forums for discussion were held. Dr. Morgan explained that some were large public events, some were in classes and some were simply two people sharing their thoughts and reactions. The main purpose of the forums was to provide an outlet for people to share their feelings and gain information about the events that would be helpful.
Another college was not so lucky. “A student from the University of Santa Clara missed her scheduled flight and was later booked on one of the planes that crashed in to the World Trade Center,” says Dr. Morgan. “The campus was badly shaken when they heard the tragic news.”
Asked about the effects the terrorist attacks have had on La Verne, Dr. Morgan answers, “The impacts of the terrorist attacks have been far reaching in our community in terms of emotional challenges it has caused. Everyone has experienced a full range of anger, sadness, fright and consternation. Life will never be the same for those who shared the experiences of Sept. 11. As events unfold, our perspectives continue to change. Because the University is the collective, it has changed as we have changed.” Studies from the Rand Corporation survey published in the Los Angeles Times “found that 35 percent of children older than 5 had problems, and 47 percent worried about their safety, according to their parents.”
To ensure the safety of ULV students and faculty, patrols were increased and an emergency operation center was set up the day of the attack. The center was located in the President’s Dining Room with a modified Security crew overseeing television, computer and office supplies. “The terrorist attacks gave us the opportunity to evaluate the system,” says John Lentz, director of campus security and transportation. There is also a portable generator available in the event of a power outage. “We have urged that all maintain a greater awareness of their surroundings and those who are in their presence,” cautions Dr. Morgan.
Since the attacks, there have been no incidents on campus that are directly related. A bomb threat in Founders Hall during midterms was determined to be a juvenile prank called in by a young person from a pay phone off campus. There were a couple of calls about suspicious mail received by the Communications Department after a ULV security bulletin warning about the anthrax biological concerns circulated in the mail. One legal-sized bulky letter with no return address, too much postage, with political handwritten profanity messages on the front, and a sticker across the seal on the back of the envelope telling George Bush to “Go to Hell”arrived in the journalism campus mail bag. Journalism faculty called campus security; the classroom was sealed off, and the package was isolated until the La Verne Police Department arrived to inspect it in the building. It contained 13 single-spaced hand-typed pages, front and back, of ranting radical religious messages, mixing Osama bin Laden’s name with George Bush’s name. A meticulously hand-drawn color picture of bin Laden graced the front page. No anthrax was found after a careful microscopic examination of the letter by Dr. Jay Jones, ULV professor of biology and biochemistry. Dr. Jones was called in by Department Chair Dr. George Keeler after the La Verne Police Department twice refused to forward the letter to a hazardous materials team for analysis, despite the expressed fears of the Communications Department faculty, staff and Campus Security. At the same time, another letter was received by the Department with tape across the seal as if it had been opened. “We determined that someone probably opened the second letter to find out where to send it,” says Lentz.
The ULV Counseling Center was not any busier after the crisis although time was made available the first two weeks after the crisis to provide help to anyone who needed it. Graduate students currently being counseled came in for other reasons and brought up safety issues. “They had concerns for their children’s safety and how to reassure them,” says Rick Rogers, Jr., Ph.D., director of the university counseling center. Other grad students and undergrads with no children who were thinking of having children asked, “Is this a safe world to bring a child into.” He explained that the counselors basically listen to the student’s concerns, evaluate them and try to normalize fears and understand what their fears or anxiety are. “We try to help them maintain a normal life pattern during a stressful time like this.”
Heidi Perez, a part-time College Accelerated Program for Adult students with two teenage boys, says, “I think we need to be careful about what we read and see in the media and filter out what may or may not be true or accurate.” Part of coping with life’s tragedies is being able to disseminate information and take a break from reality to organize and reflect on one’s thoughts.
Debbie Roberts, ULV protestant campus minister and director of the peace studies program, explains that in our fast-paced society, people don’t listen to the spirit within them. “I tell the students to listen to their intuition, the spirit within,” says Roberts. “The problem is people are not used to sitting quietly and listening.” She shared that a person’s traditions help them to find presence, and it’s important to pay attention. For some people, the presence is named God. Spirituality helps people to be calm, to have patience and to be aware of the big picture that each person is a small part of. “It helps us to set a direction in life,” says Roberts, “to know who we are in the scheme of things.” Talking to others of the same faith can help ease fear and panic and strengthen beliefs. A statistic recorded by the Rand Corporation survey reveals that “nearly everyone-98 percent -talked with others about their thoughts and feelings. Nine in 10 turned to religion and 60 percent participated in group activities such as discussions and vigils.”
How to cope with the crisis was an issue addressed in an article published by the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 19 written by Lynn Smith. The article stated that one of the coping mechanisms to use was the primitive method of crying as a natural response that can lead to both mental and physical healing. “Some researchers say that crying can have health benefits, such as easing muscle tension and may eliminate toxins created by stress.”
People affected by divorce, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job have already experienced many of the symptoms related to dealing with a crisis. Their symptoms may have increased in light of the terrorist attacks, or they may have been able to handle it better because they knew how to deal with it. Some of these people have learned to live one day at a time or in the moment because they realize first hand that each moment is precious. Asking for help is one of the best ways to overcome feelings of despair. Isolation on the other hand can cause a person to become despondent and depressed. People need people to survive. When a person loses a loved one, they are not the only person who is affected by the loss. There is a rippling affect on all the lives that were touched by the person who is gone.
Exercise and eating right are particularly important in coping with stress. Rex Huigens, ULV professor of movement and sports science, says too much fat can clog the arteries which makes the heart work harder while too little fat can be detrimental for fighting off illness. “It’s a very basic system; you take in fewer calories than you use,” explains Huigens. Walking is becoming more popular because people have someone to talk to. “The key for most people is finding an exercise they like to do,” he says. Focus on progress, not perfection for good results. Besides the physical benefits of exercising and eating right, other advantages include increased concentration, better sleep, less irritability and reduced anxiety.
Yoga is another method of exercise as well as meditation to calm and sooth the body and soul in a world with constant change. The word Yoga means union or balance. It is not a religion, so any person can benefit from it. There are about 40 different types of yoga, and each has a positive way for reducing negative energy in a person’s life. Some advantages to yoga are it cultivates a calm state of mind; it strengthens physical flexibility, and it reduces anxiety. It has been around for centuries and is considered a holistic approach to healing health problems.
Taking care of our body, mind and spirit is no different than changing the oil in a car regularly to make sure it runs well. It’s just common sense that a person’s body, mind and spirit will most likely function better when it is maintained regularly. Even so, there are no guarantees in life. Mind, body and spirit are interconnected with how people cope with life and tragedy. Is there really a way to balance these factors when change is a constant factor in life? Does a person really have any control over this? According to the book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted,” written by Pastor John Ortberg of Willow Creek Church, the truly significant quest in life should be a well-ordered heart. How a person makes choices on a daily basis has to do with where their heart is focused. “A well-ordered heart is to love doing the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way, with the right kind of love.”
As a nation, Americans have come together to demonstrate love for their country and fellow persons. Normal citizens, not celebrities are recognized as heroes who protect and serve members of our country. The importance of life and freedom is profoundly eminent today since the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Insightful Foreign Viewpoints
ULV Foreign students, Melanie Hanik from Germany, and Matthew Reilly from England, are accustomed to a life surrounded by tragedy. Their viewpoint similar to other foreign students is quite different from American’s reactions to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. “Things like this happen every day in England, and it doesn’t reach the front page at all,” says Reilly. He explains when more than 3,000 people were killed in the Irish Republican Army, it did reach the front page of the newspaper, but no extra fuss was made about it. “The media in England will talk about it in black and white facts, then explain what policies will be implemented to prevent it from happening again,” says Reilly. “They try to instill security in the public’s mind.”
In America, people are not experienced with terrorism so they are shocked when it happens here. Family and friends of Reilly agree that “because America has so much power, the American people have the attitude that no one would dare touch them.” Reilly criticized the way the media dealt with the attacks of Sept. 11. “I didn’t think it was necessary to have 24 hour coverage on television for days. It strikes fear in people. I was just sick of it. It was almost a joke.”
The political response to the attacks poses two questions: What should we do about the attacks? What can be gained from this experience? “I think George Bush dealt with it in the right way,” says Reilly. “I think Americans are correct in going to Afghanistan. President George Bush will get more support in building up the military.”
Prime Minister Tony Blair of England looks at strengthening the alliance of foreign policy by offering help. Reilly says he thinks it is an advantage for England to help America because “If something should happen to England, like war or economically, America will be there for us.”
When tragedy strikes, people are more watchful and take extra measures to assure their safety. “I think America is going to be the safest it has ever been, because Americans are on full alert,” says Reilly.
Parents of foreign students were frightened for their children’s safety being so far away from home. Students were put in the position of consoling them. “My family was frightened for me at first, but now it’s OK,” says Melanie Hanik, a German exchange student. “I’m here so I see the situation, so I feel safe.” Even so, Hanik says she was concerned like everyone else about what happened and whether foreign students would have to go home.
Traveling to the United States is terrifying for relatives and friends who want to visit students. “I have friends from Germany who wanted to travel to the United States but were skeptic,” says Hanik. “Now, nothing has happened, so they are coming.”
Millions of people in the world have been affected by the terrorist attacks. Every person is watching collectively to see what changes will occur. The continuing global struggle for World peace seems more important now.