Students spend day in disbelief, sorrow

Liz Kohman

University students ambled to classes with their mugs full of coffee and their bags full of books Tuesday morning. Oldies songs about boyfriends and broken hearts played over the East Bank bookstore speakers as a few early risers bought course books.

But the mood on campus changed as the news of the plane crashes spread. Radio listeners turned their dials from music stations to news.

Others, like Melissa Schaefer, a fourth-year visual journalism major, lined University halls, intently staring at television scenes of burning buildings.

“I’m scared as hell,” she said. “I don’t want to see war come from this.”

Wissam A. Balshe, Arab Student Association president, said some Arab students have had others come up to them on campus and make harassing comments, assuming Arabic involvement in the deadly attacks.

“We are very angry like the rest of America and we denounce these acts of violence against civilians,” Balshe said.

“Please be patient,” he added. “We don’t want people to start prematurely blaming groups like they did in Oklahoma City.”

Dan Kelly, Minnesota Student Association president, said he hopes there is no backlash at the University level.

“It’s important for students of Arab and Muslim decent to feel safe,” Kelly said. “I’m worried about all students … dirty looks, glances in class can make people feel unsafe.”

A University in shock

Some morning classes became forums for current event discussions.

Justin Beers, a sophomore studying marketing, was in his morning short calculus discussion when the class was interrupted by a student answering her cell phone.

Beers said his instructor seemed irritated until the student announced news about the attacks. The instructor stopped lecturing and started asking questions about the attacks.

By 10:30 a.m. the Murphy Hall auditorium was filled with students silently watching as CNN ran footage of the destruction and of reporters trying to separate rumors from facts in reporting on the crashes.

More people lined the hallways of Murphy watching televisions on either side of the building.

“Oh no,” said one girl as she entered the building and caught a glimpse of the television.

Most students said they were shocked by the orchestration of the attacks, but weren’t surprised the United States had been targeted.

Joe Kirchhof, a junior in political science and cultural studies and comparative literature, said the attack was not very surprising because the U.S. has bombed so many other countries.

“Violence begets more violence,” he said.

Students lounging on Northrop Mall, enjoying the sunny, breezy day, were shocked.

“What a waste of political energy,” said Jon Hester, a sophomore in graphic design and Spanish. “There’s no justification for any act of terrorism.”

Hilary Pieri, a senior majoring in child psychology, said events like this make day-to-day routines seem insignificant.

“I feel safe, but it makes you think it could happen anywhere at anytime,” she said.

On the West Bank, students clustered around radios and televisions to hear the news.

Around 11:30 a.m. a girl in the West Bank Cafeteria happily announced all University classes were canceled to diners.

“Are you kidding?” asked one student. The feeling of kids learning it was a snow day fell over the room as students realized they were off the hook on incomplete homework.

But not all University students cared about the canceled classes.

Jason Daza, a senior philosophy major, said the attacks caught him by surprise and made him realize there’s a false sense of security.

The Weisman Art Museum was empty, but two students stood in the gift shop listening to news on the radio and talking.

“You never think something like this will happen during your lifetime,” said Allison McCarty, a fourth-year sociology major.

“It’s going to change the world,” added Lena Valenty, a junior advertising major.

Unity amid terror

At noon, about 200 students gathered in Northrop Mall for a prayer vigil. Christian, Native American, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders led prayers for the victims and perpetrators of the attack.

“Grant us a place in the world where we may live free from violence,” said Rev. Douglas M. Donley, pastor of University Baptist Church. “Save us from the rush to blame.”

Taqee Khaled, a fourth-year neuroscience major and member of the Muslim Student Association, said it’s important to remember the basic principles that connect American citizens.

“We must strengthen one another,” he said. “No individual groups had a hand in this.”

Khaled said misconceptions about people of Arabic decent have arisen from American popular culture such as movies.

“I cannot blame the popular perceptions,” he said. “It is what people have been fed.”

Khaled said Islamic people, as a whole, are very peaceful.

“Islamic religion strictly prohibits the hurting of innocent individuals,” he said. “Islam came from the Arabic word for peace.”

Khaled said he realizes some people might attach blame to his and other Arabic and Muslim backgrounds, but hopes his message reaches the majority of people.

“It’s awkward,” he said, “but it’s O.K. as long as people are listening.”

Donley said the tragedy reminded him of how vulnerable U.S. citizens are and how lucky the United States has been in the past not to have such tragic run-ins with terrorism.

He said he feels safe in the Twin Cities, but fears the repercussions of the events in the eastern United States.

“My fear is retaliation,” Donley said. “This is one step down a violent path. I hope it is the last step.”