CSU alumna Maria Bennett was eating breakfast in Allison Hall when she saw the two planes collide into the World Trade Center towers. The freshman soon learned that a plane had also crashed into the Pentagon.
She went into a panic.
Bennett’s father, an officer in the Air Force, was stationed at the Pentagon.
The Waiting Game
“It took me 67 tries to get my mom on the phone, but once I did I found out that she hadn’t talked to him either,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s mother urged her to go to class, but when Bennett arrived in Clark A103 for a class with 200 people, she found that only 30 had shown up. Everyone was talking about the attacks, so Bennett left.
“I sat on my bunk bed by myself for the rest of the day watching the news, waiting – just waiting,” Bennett said.
Shocked and Silent
Bennett waited in silence, and on Sept. 11 that silence was pervasive everywhere, and CSU was no exception.
CSU alumnus Jason Huitt remembers the mood exactly. He was working in Morgan Library on the day of the attacks and remembers that everyone was “very sullen, and shaken up. Everyone walked around with their heads down toward the ground because everybody was just shocked.”
Huitt said that only half the usual number of students was on campus for a Tuesday, and with classes canceled and students gone, nobody got any work done.
After a few hours of watching students huddle around computers, the library staff decided to set up chairs and hook a cable feed to an LCD projector and flash it on the wall so that more people could watch the news footage. At one point 20 to 30 people were in the library watching the news.
“I wasn’t in the mood to work, so I left the library early and got home around 4 p.m.,” Huitt said. “My roommates were both there, and so we just sat and watched the news for the rest of the night, in silence.”
That afternoon, while Huitt silently watched the news, Bennett was sitting doing the same, waiting for word on her father. Finally, at about 5 p.m., her phone rang.
He was safe.
“Miracle of miracles, my dad had taken the day off,” Bennett said. “He never takes a day off, but he was getting ready to move back to Colorado and so he had taken the day off to meet the movers.”
Several offices in the Pentagon were unoccupied due to renovations when the plane hit the building, saving many lives, but Bennett is most thankful for the life of her father.
“I feel so lucky that my dad is OK, but I feel so guilty that my dad is OK,” Bennett said. “People lost important family members, people who shaped their lives. Thank God my dad was OK.”
“It wasn’t long after 9/11 that things started to change,” Huitt said.
Huitt was a university employee, and he remembers that immediately, residence hall security was tightened, the Morgan Library began having fire drills and all student employees were being instructed on evacuation procedures.
Huitt was a member of Associated Students of CSU, and at the senate meetings, the first thing they did was observe a moment of silence.
“The mood of campus completely changed after 9/11,” Huitt said. “We were only a few weeks into the semester, it seemed like everybody was happy-go-lucky, really enjoying themselves, and then that one day changed everybody’s attitude. It definitely left a weird twist on the rest of the year, that’s for sure.”
Bennett remembers heightened security, but also heightened awareness.
“I think immediately there was a sense of ‘let’s go get these guys’ after the attacks, but at CSU, President Yates and the administration made a concerted effort to open up the lines of dialogue,” Bennett said. “I think I was really lucky to be on a college campus at the time because we didn’t have to deal with the mass discrimination like so many others.”
Back to Normal?
College students are resilient, and at CSU the first signs of a return to normalcy came in the most collegiate way possible: football.
“It was during a home football game that we were allowed to raise the flag again,” Huitt said. “They hoisted the flag all the way up, and I have never heard Hughes Stadium so loud – and it had nothing to do with football.”
For Bennett, getting back to normal has taken more time.
“Even now, five years later, I still tear up at Father’s Day cards and those stupid chain e-mails. I know how lucky I am,” she said.
For many Americans, Sept. 11 highlighted the differences between “us” and “them”, showcasing how different two cultures can be. But at CSU, some students believe that 9/11 just made campus stronger.
“Events like this have made me more aware that I’m an American, but also that I’m just a person, like they are, and that I have so many things in common with people from across the globe,” Bennett said. “I feel so lucky to have been in college, to be able to take classes about countries and cultures, and to be able to learn about these issues.”
Staff writer Hilary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org