Community gathers to reflect on 35W collapse

Local religious leaders held a memorial Tuesday to pay respects and help those affected.

Betsy Graca

On the first day of classes, community members, faculty and students had their first opportunity to reflect on the Interstate 35W bridge tragedy as a University.

The event, planned by the Inter-faith Campus Coalition with the involvement of Students for Spiritual Understanding and Empathy, took place Tuesday afternoon on the east end of the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Coalition representatives said they felt it was important to organize a memorial as quickly as possible to offer support to students struggling with the crisis and its effect on the community. They also explained it was something that could not be put off for a later date.

Pastor Doug Donnelly of the University Baptist Church and Rabbi Sharon Stiefel of the Hillel Jewish Student Center both spoke and performed a closing song at the memorial.

“This tragedy has brought to mind what our purpose is here, what’s most important in our lives and how we can reflect on that as we start the school year,” Donnelly said. “Here’s a poignant reminder of how fragile life is and how important every moment is.”

There was concern many students would be too focused on classes to take a moment for reflection, though coalition officials felt it essential the event was not ignored.

The audience was small and students were able to stop by if even for a moment to join the reflection.

“It’s a very busy day, we realize that, and on the other hand it just didn’t seem like something we should wait on,” said Jerry Rinehart, vice president of student affairs who also spoke at the memorial.

Rinehart said it was important for the memorial to be scheduled for a time and place students could have easy access to or could unknowingly discover in between classes.

The reflection included speakers, a moment of silence and Donnelly’s song.

Although the coalition organized the event, Donnelly and Steifel welcomed students of all beliefs to the event.

“The ICC is nondenominational and a tremendous ally to the University,” Rinehart said.

Graduate student Alvina Kittur, speaker for Students for Spiritual Understanding and Empathy, represented the students’ perspective of the bridge collapse. She spoke of a co-worker who fell on the bridge but jumped back into the water to help the other victims.

Tuesday’s event also provided information and contacts with the University Counseling and Consulting Services.

Courtney Jones, student chairwoman of the Lutheran Student Movement, emphasized the importance of having guidance available immediately as students returned to classes.

“Students will know (counseling is) there for them even on the first day of classes,” she said.

The memorial was not only meant to pay respects to the tragedy itself, but to honor the unity of the community as well. There was not a distinction between ethnicity, religion, gender and sexuality when the bridge collapsed, Donnelly said. The community joined together to do what it could whether it was volunteering for the Red Cross or donating blood.

“We don’t as a group think this was God’s plan,” Steifel said. “There are unfortunate events that are beyond our control and faith can be something you can rely on, there are just not always answers.”