Does 9/11 observance still matter?

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On Tuesday Sept. 11, 2018, Reverend Kristen Glass Perez led an observance in commemoration of the attacks that occurred in 2001. According to Perez, approximately 50 people were in attendance, including faculty, staff, students and others unaffiliated with the college. Verses from the Gospels, Hebrew bible and Quran were recited as a gesture of unity and accommodation of all faiths.

Previous college observances of 9/11 have included a tolling of the bells and an email sent out to the entire community by the president or other senior staff members. However, in 2016, this tradition came to an unannounced halt, leaving some students feeling bewildered and left in the dark.

When we are together as a community … we know that we support one another and I think 9/11 is a way for us to remember that together.

This lack of recognition by the college of such a significant and tragic event in recent American history prompted both the Muhlenberg College Republicans and Muhlenberg College Democrats to write open letters to the president expressing their disappointment at what was perceived to be a deliberate neglect.

“To even suggest that the pain felt by our nation should be forgotten because death is essentially an everyday occurrence,” the College Republicans wrote, “is a personal affront to all those who died, lost loved ones and sacrificed their time and health in the relief effort.”

Despite their political differences, both the College Republicans and College Democrats agreed.

“To some, remembering 9/11 is an act of patriotism,” the College Democrats wrote, “but for all, such a remembrance is, most fundamentally, a sign of humanity.”

The Muhlenberg Weekly published both of these letters along with a response by President Williams in their Sept. 15, 2016 issue.

“When I arrived on campus in July 2015,” Williams wrote, “I was informed in an early meeting with my senior staff that members from different segments of the campus community had been inquiring for several years as to why we were still having services commemorating 9/11, given the passage of time and the mounting number of other tragedies that were not being remembered on campus.”

Clearly the college listened to the voices of the students, as 9/11 observances have been reinstated. But the concern still remains as to whether or not the general student body, not just those involved in the aforementioned groups, feel that there is still a need for an annual commemoration.

“When I arrived here I asked if there is a precedent of having [a 9/11 service],” Perez said, “and I checked that with the senior staff of the college, and people said there is.”

Perez’s experience with the senior staff seems to directly oppose that of President Williams when he first arrived. In response to queries similar to those that the president raised in his letter, Perez firmly believes that 9/11 observances are important to this campus.

“All of the people who died were loved ones of someone,” Perez says. “[The first responders] were just going to work that day, much as any of us might have been. Honoring and remembering that I think is important and that as a community we can collectively hold those stories together… When we are together as a community… we know that we support one another and I think 9/11 is a way for us to remember that together.”

The proximity of Muhlenberg to New York results in the proximity of this horrific event to more people. “I’m originally from New York,” says Ryan Connelly ’19, “my aunt was a first responder.” There are many people in the Muhlenberg community who are still affected by this tragedy, including the families of four Muhlenberg alumni who lost their lives in 9/11. As such, Perez says that she would be willing to lead 9/11 commemoration ceremonies whether one person or 100 people show up.

It’s nice to have something as a recognition that this is a different day and it is something to be thinking about.

As one who herself has recently experienced the loss of her husband, she acknowledges that there are many ways that people grieve, and all ways of healing should be made available.

Overall, the general consensus is that the college still should have a 9/11 observance, but perhaps should have something more accessible to busy students, like tolling the bells.

“For people that want to have it [the ceremony], it’s valuable,” says Desmond Reifsnyder ’22. “It’s nice to have something as a recognition that this is a different day and it is something to be thinking about.”

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