Spring 2002
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TCU Magazine Feature

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Religion's safe haven

After the fall

With the events of Sept. 11 a half a year behind us, and the war on terrorism expanding, The TCU Magazine asked nine students to talk about how the most iunfamous day of their generation has changed their lives.

By Rick Waters '95

Forever we will refer to it by calendar date -- 9-11. Just two small words to describe the day America froze into a collective gasp of disbelief.

Six months later the campus seems, well, normal. At least on the surface, but not if normal means Sept. 10. Many things have changed. Lectures on Islam are given monthly at the bookstore. Student enrollment in world religion classes is at an all-time high. Volunteer efforts have drawn strong community support. Class discussions have shifted focus.

But mostly perceptions are changing, minds are searching to make sense of what seems so senseless.

The nine students we picked do not represent the entire student body, but each, in his or her way, expressed attitudes that cut across demographics: a greater appreciation for their blessings, a determination to follow their ambitions and a hope for a more understanding world.

"It's the first time in my generation the world stood still," said Chelsea Hudson, 20, a political science junior from Plano.

As student body president, Hudson is used to rallying her classmates. Shortly after the second tower fell, she helped gather 300 people for a campus prayer vigil. A semester later, Hudson said the campus is still conscious of 9-11 but is less emotional.

"It's not referenced as much now as it was the weeks after it happened," said Hudson, who adds that for some, a fresh semester has helped them move on. "If you keep referencing it, I feel you're not cleansing it out of your system. I don't want to experience it every day."

Advertising-public relations senior Allyson Cross feels differently. She said she needs the daily reminder.

"I go to sleep with CNN on every night. While some people had to turn it off eventually, I just want more information," said the 21-year-old from Brentwood, Tenn.

She was invested. Her father, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist, was due at the Pentagon that morning, but he rescheduled his appointment. It was several hours before Cross learned he was unharmed, and not knowing impacted her sense of security.

"What seemed like a safe place doesn't seem so safe anymore. You tend to question everything," she said.

She is still afraid to fly. At Thanksgiving, she elected to make a 12-hour drive each way to be with her family.

"Everyday I think about what they could be planning," she said. "When I see an Army helicopter or F-16 fly over, I wonder."

Melissa DeLoach isn't fearful. She's had too much work to do. The 22-year-old news-editorial senior from Waco spent the semester in Washington, D.C. as an intern for The Dallas Morning News and heads the TCU Daily Skiff as editor this spring.

"It was an exciting time to be a journalist. It was exciting to cover events and press conferences that were history in the making," she said.

Susan Barton, a graduate student at Brite Divinity School, thinks about the world her children will inherit. "Because I have a child and am expecting another in May, I think about the long-term ramifications," she said, explaining that her son now builds Lego towers and knocks them down saying, "The airplane did it. The bad people did it."

In her ministerial work with high school students, Barton has seen an increase in faith-based thinking as youth try to sort out the issues of 9-11.

"They are having to think deeper about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to believe in God," she said.

Austin Dickson, 22, a religion senior from Waco, has become the resident expert on the Taliban among his fraternity brothers, who used to wonder about his interest in religion. Now they ask him about the research on human rights violations against women in the Middle East he did while serving as an intern for the World Federalist Association last year.

"I had been reading about how anti-American they are. They despise everything we do as Americans," he said. "While our perspective as Americans is to pursue wealth, health and success, their perspective is to focus on community and their religion."

International students Raquel Torres and Tahira Hussain are encouraged by their peers' expanded interests, but it can be daunting to be expected to speak for an entire religion or region of the world. Often, they are the only people in their classes who have lived outside the United States.

"It's obvious that I'm not from here, and people are much more aware of my presence now," said Hussain, a 20-year-old political science junior who is an American citizen but grew up in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. "In the beginning, it was overwhelming with so many people wanting to ask me questions about Islam."

Hussain, who is Muslim, said campus mentors helped her see the attention as a way to promote understanding. "This is a chance to change some misconceptions," she said.

Torres, an e-business senior from Cali, Colombia, and president of the International Students Association, said growing up in Colombia prepared her for the shock of terrorism better than Americans.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to the young people here in America and at TCU, and it was just Earth-shattering," she said. "I am from a place where terrorism is part of life every day. And it's tragic. But life goes on.

"Here? Life stopped that day."

A new non-profit entrepreneurial venture was what stopped for 23-year-old e-business senior Steven Lewis, of Anchorage, Alaska.

"When the economy worsened after 9-11, all the nonprofit monies dried up, and the fund-raising aspect was sidetracked," said Lewis, president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Eternally optimistic, he insists his worldview hasn't been dented -- he's already launched a new for-profit venture with six fraternity brothers.

But most insisted that while attitudes have changed, plans haven't.

Bryan Perkins, an advertising-public relations senior from Liberty, Mo., and president of the Interfraternity Council, will serve an internship at a PR firm in New York this summer. His sense of patriotism has flourished since Sept. 11 and he's looking forward to visiting Ground Zero.

"Emotionally, it's given me an opportunity to really look at the way I feel about everything I do, allows me to not take things for granted," he said. "I know I feel a lot more pride in my country. It's good to see new light shed on patriotism, and how lucky we are, how cool it is to be an American."

He knows, though, that the impact of Sept. 11 will reverberate politically, economically and socially for years. Among the points of debate: Should we be fighting a war against terrorism?

"It had to be declared, someone had to say it," he said. "Being against terror is a no-brainer because it's about being against killing innocent people. But to say either you're for us or against us, that's kind of a bold statement."

Torres, the Colombian student, noted that the general opinion of President Bush during the election was that he was weak on foreign policy. "He was going to focus on America and what America needs to do, not get involved in conflicts that are not ours," she said. "And all of a sudden the conflicts became ours. So that's sort of an irony."

But she knows terrorism is "... an idea. It is a way of life," complicated by poverty, hunger and inequality.

"The war on terrorism can only be fought through education," she said. "The people in Afghanistan were educated that the West was evil. Now it's about who gets there to educate them first."

Dickson, the religion senior from Waco, agreed that education is key. "There are military actions we can do to prevent it, but we wind up enticing more of them to be terrorists."

He suggests an international group should rebuild Afghanistan, but construct it "the way they want, not the way we want."

It is difficult for Barton, the divinity student, and Hudson, the student body president, to fault President Bush. They agree that he is in an unenviable predicament -- use force and be criticized internationally or show restraint and hear backlash at home.

"After the event, people didn't know what to do," Barton said. "We needed a strong leader to make a decision, and he did that."

Adds Hudson: "I pray for [U.S. leaders] because they're only human, but they're making decisions that will influence the course of history."

Hudson is not sure a war against terrorism is one America can ultimately win, but thinks it's a war that the country should be in. "Former Sen. George Mitchell spoke on campus after the attacks, and he's someone that has always advocated peace," she said. "But he felt we had to go to war because there was no alternative, and I guess that's how I feel too."

Cross, whose father was to be at the Pentagon, says America should be committed for the families of the victims. "I challenge anybody who says we shouldn't be involved in a war on terrorism to look a person who lost somebody at the World Trade Center in the face and say we shouldn't," she said.

Hussain, the Muslim American who grew up in the Middle East, said there is no clear culprit to fight. "That's why it's terrorism. It's faceless. Terrorism is not claimed by one nation or one religion. It's hatred, and that's universal."

The lesson for her generation, DeLoach believes, is to learn not to fear, but to seek answers. "It is a challenge to people of my age on down to educate themselves and learn the skill of conflict resolution."

Torres likes that attitude. She hopes the day won't be shoved into the forgotten past.

"The worst thing that could happen would be that people Ôget over' it," she said. "Moving on is great, but getting over it or dismissing it, then the lesson would be lost and all those lives lost in vain."