It has been almost a month since the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and this week I got the chance to do a deep dive on The Daily Campus issues that came out immediately following that event. I also was lucky enough to be able to contact two people that worked at the paper when 9/11 occurred, and I got some of their thoughts on the general atmosphere of the DC and UConn as a whole.
Of all the events I’ve seen covered by an iteration of UConn’s student newspaper so far in my searches through the archives, 9/11 is unique in many ways. For starters, the coverage continued for weeks, if not months. When I did the article on presidential assassinations, considerable American tragedies in their own right, most coverage was limited to one issue, or maybe a few at most. The fact that 9/11 took up so much space in the DC also meant there was a lot of space for student input. With a lot of other national news, articles from the Associated Press or the United Press International tend to be what the Daily Campus draws from. In this instance, both the news and opinion sections of the paper (opinion was called “Commentary” at the time) got many chances to write about the event.
Looking back at 9/11 as someone who was born three months prior, it’s hard to imagine how it must have been living through it but getting to see how the paper dealt with the tragedy provides some really moving insight. The Sept. 13 front-page story, entitled “Students hold vigil on mall,” outlines the solidarity that occurred at UConn directly after the attacks, as “several thousand members of the campus and surrounding community gathered on the Student Union mall.” The story’s caption states that songs were played, and that vigil-goers were seen praying and weeping. I had the privilege of talking about this with the author of the article, Meg Noble Clifton. When I asked her if she could describe how she felt during the moment, she said this:
“The vigil itself was extremely moving, and I was amazed at how the organizers pulled it together so quickly. Covering it as a journalist, I definitely got a crash course in figuring out how to do my job and interview people who were grieving and in shock.”
Unfortunately, just as thousands were gathering to mourn, two students at UConn decided to leave permanently and return to the UAE, out of fear that they might face violence at the school. In his Sept. 13 column, Commentary Editor Beau Carson wrote an article titled “Ignorance has found a home at Storrs,” and he quoted one of the students who left, Ibraheem Almansouri, who said: “I can’t stay in the U.S. because of the people in class; all of the people just look at me.” The fact that the UConn community was a hostile environment for these students, and likely others as well, is a stain on the school’s legacy.
Directly under Carson’s column, another columnist, Sean Williams, had an article titled “Pacifists have got it all wrong with this conflict.” The attitude of wanting to go to war was alive and well at UConn, as a poll that ran in the paper the next day had 73% of the students that answered thinking that the U.S. would go to war about 9/11.
Exactly a year after, on Sept. 11, 2002, the new editorial board published an editorial board that focused solely on the solidarity. It mentioned how the country stayed strong in the face of terrorism and focused on the national pride generated by the aftermath of the attacks. It did not mention the hatred and warmongering that spread even on this very campus. While I understand that the intention was not to be critical, but rather to release a brief statement on the anniversary, it’s important to discuss both sides of the story when it comes to 9/11, as they happened simultaneously, and are both parts of the legacy, whether good or ugly.
In conclusion, the fact that the Daily Campus was able to put together a product during a time of so much confusion and grief was impressive. I was impressed by how the paper also didn’t just take the patriotic route but worked to paint a full picture of the goings-on at UConn. From the heart-warming events to the xenophobic attitudes that sprung up at the school, the paper reported it.
I got in touch with Dan Drew, who was the Editor-in-Chief at the time, and about this time at the paper he said:
“I remember the atmosphere on campus being much like it was everywhere else. People were in shock, they were saddened, they were angry, and there were patriotic displays everywhere. I remember seeing more American flags around campus and on people’s cars. We did our best at the DC to encapsulate what was happening in the world and to contextualize it to students’ lives. There was so much going on at once that it was difficult to foresee that day and in the weeks after just how much the world would change.”
Coming from the perspective of someone who has worked at the paper during the COVID-19 pandemic, I can relate to people who were in college during a traumatic event. Only time will tell how our coverage of the pandemic has done to contextualize the era we’re living through, but it’s quite daunting to be able to look in the mirror and see that similar undertakings have happened before.