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MIT mourns

A student displays the American flag at a gathering of thousands of MIT community members on Killian Court last Wednesday.
A student displays the American flag at a gathering of thousands of MIT community members on Killian Court last Wednesday.
Photo / Donna Coveney

'We have strengthened and sustained each other'--President Charles M. Vest, Sept. 14

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the world watched on TV, transfixed, as terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into New York City's two tallest buildings and the Pentagon in Washington, while a fourth plane plummeted into a Pennsylvania field. It was the first successful foreign attack on the US mainland since the British burned the White House and the Capitol in 1814.

MIT immediately began a dialogue -- via conversations, e-mail, and the home pages for the News Office and the Institute itself -- to reach out to its community of 20,000 students, faculty and staff, who come from more than 100 nations and include all the world's major religions.

At 5 p.m. on the day of the attacks, Chancellor Philip L. Clay convened a meeting on the Student Center steps with chaplains and students "to come together to support each other and cope with this tragedy." President Charles M. Vest, in Canada and unable to return to MIT, issued the first of four letters about the "unprecedented tragedy." Housemasters and graduate resident tutors tried to contact every student personally in their living quarters Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday afternoon, some 5,000 students, faculty and staff streamed into Killian Court for a community meeting and discussions in small groups. It was the largest assembly at MIT in 85 years for an event other than graduation. The first of two public forums on national security was well-attended, and the Public Service Center began raising money for the families of victims of the attacks.

Thursday saw students create a memorial and commentary on long sheets of paper in Lobby 10, as well as the Class of 2002 making looped white ribbon lapel pins. They were distributed on Friday.

The 12-by-25-foot "Reflecting Wall at MIT" -- conceived and built in 48 hours -- was dedicated Friday, the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, amidst notes, roses and candles. The Red Cross Blood Drive was fully subscribed for the third day in a row.

On Monday, the seventh day after the attacks, a national security forum again drew a crowd, and some heated analyses. The Comparative Media Studies Program issued a special web-based curriculum (story), and the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences announced a series of six teach-ins beginning Sept. 20. And an on-line moderated forum, "Community Expressions,"is being launched to support continued dialogue and expressions of views; details will be announced on the MIT home page.

The human spirit perseveres.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2001.

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