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BPD Update Online, Fall 2001
September 11 - New Jersey

Carol Williams, Kean University


On Monday, September 10 at about 1 pm, my husband and I flew into Newark, returning from a meeting of the CSWE Commission on Conferences and Faculty Development. We flew past the World Trade Center Towers on our way into Newark, and the plane's landing gear lowered. Suddenly, the landing gear and the plane lifted again, and we were told that we had been diverted to LaGuardia Airport, as there was a fire in Newark Airport. We flew past the Twin Towers again on our way to land at LaGuardia.

There was some confusion when we landed at LaGuardia, and over a period of three hours, we were led off the plane, back on the plane, and then off the plane again. This seemed strange at the time. In light of the events of September 11, we now wonder if the fire in Newark was in any way connected to the terrorist attack which would occur the next day.

Since I was scheduled to teach the night we returned home, we convinced Continental Airlines to take us to Newark Airport by cab. On that ride, we again passed the World Trade Center Towers, visible from several miles away as we rode south on the New Jersey Turnpike. It was stormy and the sky was very dark. Heavy storms, some with tornedo-like clouds, were heading in from the west. At one point, mist surrounded the Twin Towers.

On September 11, at 7:30 am, our delayed luggage arrived from Newark Airport. I went back to bed only to be awakened a few minutes later by a call from my husband, stating that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. I turned on the news and proceeded to watch in shock and horror for the remainder of the day. Life in our area - and in this country - would never be the same as it was just one short day ago.

We live only 35 miles from New York City, and the Trade Center has been a symbol of accomplishment and pride with which those in this area have lived for nearly 40 years. It is something we have taken for granted.

Now, less than two weeks later, a huge crater sits in the center of lower Manhattan where the Trade Center Towers were..

The newscast statistics of over 6,400 deaths fall short of portraying the disaster. It is the individual stories which have made it impossible for metropolitan New Jersey residents to avoid the personal tragedy of this event. There has been at least one death in every neighborhood in our community. Two of our social work students have lost immediate family members. A group at a local super market is taking a collection for two children who lost both of their parents. A former graduate called to tell me that she had been on the highway when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Traffic stopped. She waited there, trapped in traffic, and observed the second plane hit. She personally heard the crash as she saw both towers collapse.

America has never faced an attack of this magnitude on its own shores.

The remaining question is: how will we react?

The response to date has been, in some ways, gratifying. People who previously were strangers or even adversaries have come together in pride to recognize the brave individuals who died at the Trade Center in their efforts to rescue others. New Jersey residents rally to contribute food, clothing, and blood to aid those who survived and were displaced by this tragedy. American flags proudly wave everywhere, expressing our solidarity as a people.

But there has been a simultaneous response which is chilling: an indiscriminate backlash of public feeling towards all individuals who come from the Middle East. Yesterday, at a memorial service, a woman from India spoke eloquently on this issue, stating that her religion forbids violence in any form and asking listeners not to judge others from her area of the world based on the actions of the criminals who have perpetrated this atrocity. I am shocked by the manner in which the media repeadedly and consistently refers to "America's New War" and "Ground Zero" despite the fact that no formal war has been declared.

As professors of social work, we have a unique opportunity to influence our students as they react to this event. Marshall Smith has informed us that there is a petition which may be of interest to social work educators on the Internet at:


I have distributed this information to my students and plan to follow the petition in both my policy and research classes to monitor this campaign. As I write this, there have been 487,324 signers since midnight EST, Thursday September 13, 2001. The petition urges a non-military response to the Trade Center Disaster: to target the criminals responsible through legal international avenues. The petition offers us and our students an opportunity for personal involvement in national and worldwide events. It provides the opportunity to join with others in advancing a position which is a strong stance but which is in harmony with social work values and ethical standards.

Carol Williams,
Associate Editor

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