Most Siena students were in elementary school when terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Yet they clearly remember that day, a blue New York City sky turning gray with smoke and a nation mourning.
“I was in 6th grade and I remember my teacher coming into the classroom and saying ‘the World Trade Center’s been hit,’” Lauren Komp ’12 said. “I didn’t know anything about New York City or what a terrorist was. I still get goose bumps when I see the footage.”
“I was in 5th grade and I remember classmates being sent home,” Charnelle Francis ’13 said. “I watched it on the news but I don’t think I really understood it at the time.”
In the days following 9/11, New York University students rolled out long scrolls of blank paper in Union Square – a location near the university famous for social and political activism – so people could express their immediate thoughts and feelings. What resulted were more than 200 scrolls containing words, prayers, poems and drawings encompassing a range of human emotions.
In 2003, the New York State Museum was given the scrolls and began cataloguing them. Siena students and faculty were later enlisted to help with storing the scrolls and in the spring semester of 2010, Carla Sofka, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, built the project into her Death and Dying course. Students took digital images of the scrolls and entered fields of information into an access database developed by the Museum. Br. Walter Liss, O.F.M., has developed a searchable website from the database that will eventually be available to the public.
“Siena is based on service,” said Sofka. “This was an amazing service learning project because my students got to see how people react when something horrible happens. They also learned about what influences the differences in those reactions. It’s been an opportunity for students to learn and to give something back to the Museum.”
On Wednesday, September 7, nearly 10 years after the terrorist attacks, nine Union Square scrolls and 44 reproductions were put on display in the “Sometimes Words are Not Enough” exhibit in Siena College’s Yates Gallery and Sarazen Student Union. Following a peace vigil, students viewed the scrolls and were invited to write their own feelings on new “anniversary” scrolls.
“It’s amazing how there’s still so much emotion 10 years later,” said Alberto Sepulveda ’12. “I’m glad people came to the event today. I now understand how (tragedies) like this could happen and how we still struggle for peace.”
Komp and Wendy Petroci ’12, both social work majors, were two of the students involved in logging the content of the scrolls.
“I’m so excited that we get to share this (exhibit) with other people,” said Komp, a former student of Sofka and who worked on this project as a summer scholar. “This project definitely impacted what I’m thinking (with career plans).”
Although current students still remember the tragic attacks of 9/11, the campus will soon be reaching a generation that was too young to see it firsthand. Exhibits like this one and the research that goes into it will keep it a part of history so we can continue to learn from it.
“I think it’s exciting to preserve history and I’m honored to be a part of that,” said Petroci.
The “Sometimes Words are Not Enough” exhibit is in Siena’s Yates Gallery on the second floor of Standish Library through September.