9/11 at Salem College

Seven years ago today (9.11.01)

Sitting in the Office of the President at Salem College Office, I tapped my feet impatiently as I waited for my Tuesday morning meeting with Dr. Julianne Still-Thrift. Our agenda: to review my plans as the 2001 Fall Fest Chair. Fall Fest, the decades-old Salem College tradition, was less than two weeks away.

Fall Fest is a day of competition among classes that begins with a lively breakfast in the Refectory, lasts all day (with classes cancelled) and ends with skits and songs in the Hanes Auditorium. As chair, I had begun planning for the event since May of the previous academic year, when I was ceremoniously tapped by my schoolmates to carry on this Salem tradition.

That Tuesday morning, I was missing Dr. Errol Claus’ American history class, and it was one of those “I remember where I was when …” moments, because I recall vividly the president’s assistant (and the president herself) frantically running out of her office in the old Moravian home on Salem Square and asking, “Has anybody got a TV?” Radio? Anything?” These were the days before YouTube, and instantaneous Internet feed, and the word of the two planes hitting the Twin Towers in New York City was now falling on the nation’s eyes and ears.

Given the chaos, I walked back to Dr. Claus’ class to find that he had dismissed our class so that we could return to our dorm rooms and be tuned in. This was, after all, American history was unfolding …

In the days that followed, we mourned the loss of family members and friends of Salem students, and as a school, we asked how and if our Fall Fest celebration should go on. Fall Fest was one of the most important days of the academic term, and often set the tone for sisterhood and community for the year. Could we and should we balance the recent tragedy of 9/11 with the day of celebration of our sisterhood? Would people want to laugh and celebrate again? Was it too soon?

People often ask me what it was like to attend a women’s college. This day, and the ones that followed seven year’s ago demonstrates the experience. Attending a women’s college is about community, sisterhood, and being present with one another – both in joy and sorrow.

We did choose to celebrate Fall Fest that year, though with a very different tone. We chose to celebrate the lives of loved ones lost, and our common life together.
NB: Established by the Moravians in 1772, Salem College is the oldest educational institution for women in the United States. Celebrating over two centuries of educating women, Salem demonstrates a proud history of fostering independence in women.


© 2008 J. Dana Trent

1 thought on “9/11 at Salem College”

  • thanks for reading about our project Dana! Your friend must have been either Matthew Whelan or T.J. Lang–am I correct?

    (american festivals project)

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