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Campus Reaction

September 16, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TERENCE SMITH: The horror caused by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington rippled across the country to St. Paul, Minnesota, and the campus of McAlester College. The 1,700-plus students at this private, liberal arts school come from nearly every state and 72 foreign countries. They lost no immediate family members, but in a conversation with the NewsHour, the students said they felt the impact in strong and personal terms.

LUCY CHERKASETS, New York: My first reaction was to cry, which I did, because I have a lot of friends in those buildings, and my second reaction was disbelief, and I mean, it’s just a horrible tragedy. And then I got angry.

TERENCE SMITH: Angry?

LUCY CHERKASETS: Yes.

TERENCE SMITH: At whom?

LUCY CHERKASETS: Whoever did this, at America. Part of my anger was for… towards this country, for the security of the airports. A lot of people… I wanted to blame a lot of people

ANTHONY GONZALEZ, New York: I was completely silent, not really knowing what was going on, and actually saw the second plane hitting the second tower, like, you know, live, and just complete shock. I mean, I just didn’t know what to believe. But I spent the whole day kind of, you know, worrying about my family. I called my family, and then as soon as I found out they were all right, you know, I just wanted to know more information about like who did this, and why is it this serious — because it… It never seemed like, you know, like foreign relations were this serious until this point.

DAVID CHIU, New York: It didn’t actually hit me until I went into our student center and I was able to watch on CNN, that, yeah, it was New York City, that the World Trade Center, the two towers. It was just covered in smoke and burning and a lot of mayhem, and that’s when I actually started thinking about, wow, I’m not too far from there, where I live, maybe ten blocks and…

TERENCE SMITH: Ten blocks?

DAVID CHIU: I think ten or so. I live in the Chinatown area, and so it was… It was a shock. Of course, trying to call home is kind of impossible with all the circuits busy and whatnot, and I guess I’ve been lulled into a false sense of… Well, not a false sense, but just into a sense of security, living here. I was born and raised in New York City, all my life, and so I would never think of such atrocities happening.

JASON SCHLUDE, St. Louis: I had this feeling of… of identification, in a way. I didn’t know anybody directly there, but somehow I felt a sense of identification with all those around me who, who did have family there, who had friends there, and it was difficult for me to deal with.

TERENCE SMITH: Tell me more about that feeling — that you say you have of anger.

LUCY CHERKASETS: I don’t know how to explain it. I’m… I’m angry that someone would do something like this, kill thousands, and injure hundreds of others, innocent people who are coming to work everyday. The first reaction was terrible sadness and tears, and emotions and prayers for the families, and for the people that died. But the second reaction is that anger, because you can’t do anything with the sadness.

TERENCE SMITH: What have you thought of the statements that the President and the members of the cabinet have made? Have they been reassuring to you or what?

DAVID CHIU: Well, I actually haven’t heard it. I haven’t been able to get back on the television.

TERENCE SMITH: Why?

DAVID CHIU: There is… I’ve been, not wanting to look at the television anymore.

TERENCE SMITH: You find it hard to watch?

DAVID CHIU: I think I just need a breather. I guess to collect my thoughts and emotions.

TERENCE SMITH: When you look at this country, do you look at it differently?

JASON SCHLUDE: How can I not look at it differently? I’ve grown up, my entire life, with this sense of invulnerability. You know, how could we be touched? And we can, and we have been, and it’s difficult for me to take. Recurring throughout President Bush’s address the other night, we… We heard his reassurance that… That we are strong, and he seemed to be trying to hit this point home relatively hard, and that’s a difficult thing to believe after you see the events that have taken place in the past couple days.

TERENCE SMITH: What’s happened to the term “innocence,” or your notion of innocence as a result of this?

JASON SCHLUDE: Personally, I’ve lost my innocence — like many others, I think, in my own generation, those people who are of my age, we’ve lost our innocence as a country. Much of what we talked about is how we never believed that this could happen to us, and it has.

TERENCE SMITH: So we were wrong. It can happen. It has happened.

JASON SCHLUDE: It can and it has, certainly.

TERENCE SMITH: What do we, not only to conclude from this, but what do we do about it?

ILYA WINHAM, Sioux Falls, South Dakota: I think we conclude, first of all, that terrorism’s the type of threat we’re going to be facing more in the 21st century, that intercontinental ballistic missiles and building a missile defense is probably not where we should be investing our money, and that we should focus on these invisible sub-national groups who are largely motivated, religiously, who don’t care about the consequence of their acts, who, they feel it’s their duty to strike at America, who are not going to be deterred by any of our military power or retaliation. And I think when dealing with terrorist attacks, prevention is their only protection.

TERENCE SMITH: Should we retaliate?

JASON SCHLUDE: Yes, we should retaliate. Retaliation is necessary. How do we retaliate, I don’t know. I don’t know what the proper course or what the most productive course of action would be, but we… We can’t stand and let this happen.

LUCY CHERKASETS: I don’t think the government has any right to retaliate, or we, as the American people, have any right to retaliate until we know exactly who did it, and there’s… we can’t justify bombing innocent families and children in other countries just because one terrorist is there, and he’s responsible. We are going to be touched by people who are angry at this country and who will kill innocent people to get their point across to the government.

TERENCE SMITH: Do you, personally, feel less safe?

LUCY CHERKASETS: I feel very unsafe. I’m scared to fly home. I called my father and I said I need to be home for some funerals, and he said, “no, don’t fly here, don’t come to New York. I’m glad you’re in Minnesota.” I was just… A day before it happened, on Monday, telling someone, “thank God New York has all the security, and we’ve never been really bombed, and nothing bad has ever happened,” and then to find out the news on Tuesday is just heartbreaking.

TERENCE SMITH: Is there, finally, any sort of attitudinal change that we have to go through?

ANTHONY GONZALEZ: I think individuals have to be willing to change. If, if we’re… If we’re approaching this as, you know, a… Not even thinking that this is devastating, or we’re not willing to change, then nothing is going to change.

ILYA WINHAM: Individuals must not forget what happened on September 11, and I think if we do that then we’ll learn a great deal from these events.

TERENCE SMITH: Remember it so that…

ILYA WINHAM: So that it doesn’t happen again.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Thank you all very much.