History / Magazine

9/11 at DU: students, campus affected

On the evening of Sept. 11, DU’s Campus Activities office held a candlelight vigil on the south side of the Ritchie Center, where hundreds of students, faculty and staff members assembled. Photo: DU Archives

On Sept. 11, 2001, DU lost three of its own in the deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil: Kathryn (LaBorie) Yancey-Salazar (attd. ’77) was a flight attendant on United Flight 175, which hit the south tower of the World Trade Center; Robert Ploger III (BA ’65) and Mari-Rae Sopper (JD ’96) were passengers on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

On campus, many DU professors stopped their planned lectures to discuss the unfolding events with students. University representatives called to check on every student who was from the New York or Washington, D.C., area.

DU’s Counseling and Behavioral Health Center extended its hours and provided counseling to students, faculty and staff. Counselors also visited the dorms, where they accompanied resident assistants to check on students. The outreach resulted from a meeting Campus Safety held on the afternoon of Sept. 11, where University representatives declared students’ safety their primary concern. The meeting also led to heightened security and surveillance on campus.

By the next day, reports emerged that people of Middle Eastern descent in the U.S. were falling victim to hate crimes because the 9/11 attackers were from the Middle East. DU’s Office of Internationalization responded by warning the University’s 130 Middle Eastern students to be extra vigilant and offered the International House as a safe place for DU’s approximately 1,000 international students to gather. The Study Abroad Office also contacted the 200 DU students who were studying abroad with guidelines on how to stay safe in foreign countries.

Editorial assistant Amber D’Angelo Na (BA ’06) was just starting her freshman year at DU in September 2001. Read her essay about life at DU on 9/11 here.

After noticing a downturn in business at DU-area Middle Eastern restaurants in the days following the attacks, then-Chancellor Dan Ritchie helped organize a lunch on campus to promote tolerance and understanding. On Sept. 26, in partnership with the Iliff School of Theology and the University Park United Methodist Church, DU paid nine restaurants to cater the “Gathering at the Table in Grace and Peace,” which drew more than 3,500 people.

“It changed the whole mood on campus and largely in Denver,” Ritchie says. “We went to it being an atmosphere of understanding and support for these people who really suffered more than we did. It demonstrated the spirit of the University. We have nice people who care about other people, and this really showed how compassionate our students are. Everybody was smiling and hugging. It was very nice.”

To give the community an opportunity to express its compassion for the attack victims, DU organized several memorial events on campus. On the evening of Sept. 11, DU’s Campus Activities office held a candlelight vigil on the south side of the Ritchie Center, where hundreds of students, faculty and staff members assembled. On Oct. 1, the College of Law held a day of unity and remembrance. Students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of Denver’s legal community read aloud the names of all the missing and known victims, then students organized a peace march around the Park Hill campus.

After the dust settled, people struggled with the fear of living in a post-9/11 world, so on Nov. 7 then-Provost Robert Coombe held a daylong conference devoted to the subject. It drew 1,700 attendees.

One year later, DU partnered with Colorado State University to form the Bridges to the Future lecture series to understand and learn from the tragedies and stimulate ongoing civic dialogue about the nation’s history, values, dreams and hopes for the future. The inaugural year included speakers such as former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn, then-Gov. Bill Owens, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

The 2010–11 Bridges series was devoted to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. DU plans to mark the anniversary with a remembrance coordinated by the University chaplain, a memorial event hosted by the law school and a campus luncheon catered by Middle Eastern restaurants on Sept. 12.

The meal will be organized by the Provost’s Office and modeled after the one Ritchie organized 10 years ago.

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