On September 11, 2001, I was a freshman at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ I lived in a dorm called “The Towers” and I was on the “F South” wing on the top floor. While the building was traditional cinderblock, linoleum tile, the view from the end of our hallway made up for what the building lacked aesthetically: a breathtaking view of the New York City skyline. On a bright sunny day, you could see the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers.
I was getting ready to go to my 9:05AM Music Appreciation class on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Just like any other day, as I left for class, I would look out the window and enjoy the view. That day, I saw anything but the normal skyline. Instead, I saw a black cloud of smoke where the bright blue sky usually filled in the space over the gorgeous architecture of NYC. I then saw a tiny object fly in front of the second Tower. It smashed right into the side of the building – and with that, I went numb. I ran back into my room and turned on the TV and saw the news flashes all over the screen. I tried to call out to my mom, who was in neighboring Newark, NJ at a seminar at the hospital. I then tried to call out to LA, where my brother was living at the time, fearful that whoever was responsible would be going to LA next. The phones were clogged and my friends on the hall had no idea what to do…
Then I remember my RA Christine. She was the most calm of all of us and she went into full on crisis management mode. She wanted to first make sure we were all accounted for and then called the Hall Director for further instruction. The Hall Director told us to remain calm and to stay put, so that we could all be together. We all went into the common room to watch the news and grieve together.
The university cancelled all classes for that day and advised us not to go anywhere. A lot of faculty who commuted from NYC to William Paterson were stuck in the city and couldn’t get to campus. They were very concerned for their faculty and staff because on that day, bridges, trains, planes, tunnels, and cars were not allowed in and out of NYC. We didn’t know which faculty and staff members were safe and which were not.
Suddenly, counselors were making their way into the dorm, and offered their services to us. We cried, we were confused and we didn’t know why this was happening. The counselors helped as much as they could, and they suggested we take our energy and focus on what good we have in our lives during a time of hate. Our campus held a candlelight vigil for those who were lost, including many members of our faculty and parents/relatives/friends of people at the University.
I am grateful for the wonderful job the student affairs professionals did on that day. I had only been in college for about 2 weeks at that time, but everyone was very supportive during a very dark period in history. I never got a chance to thank them, but I feel as if my place within the profession is better than a thank you card as they are a part of why I became a professional in this field – to help students no matter how big or small the issue.
Valerie Heruska is a Residence Hall Director at Boston University.