As the city continues to deal with the devastation resulting from the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, we find hope in the stories we hear from Fordham family members who continue to lend their service to others in this time of need. “Fordham University has been for 160 years a New York City institution, and I am proud of the way our faculty, students and staff have responded “to the worst disaster in our city’s history,” said the Rev. Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., University president. Shortly after learning about the collapse of the World Trade Center, John Cosgrove, Ph.D., an associate dean of the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) and a trained Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer, recruited several colleagues and called the agency to offer assistance.
The social work professors were sent to counsel anyone affected directly or indirectly by the disaster. “The Red Cross approach is that you don’t force anything on anyone, but you listen carefully, try to help people understand and process what they have seen and have been through and assure them their feelings are normal,” said Cosgrove. “We were out there the first day because the sooner people talk, the better it is for them.”
Cosgrove said it is important in times of crisis to look for signs of distress that are extreme, such as people who are visibly upset or dazed. “You tell people that when they get home they might experience, among other things, sleeplessness, headaches, a loss of appetite and that these are normal symptoms,” he said. “But you also tell them that if it persists, they should get some help.” Similarly, Michael Phillips, D.S.W., an associate dean, spent countless hours at the Staten Island ferry terminal and at the site of the World Trade Center, listening to firefighters and police officers at the scene. “People need a chance to tell their stories,” he said. “They need a chance to reflect on it and to get it out. I spent a lot of time, for example, with one of the first police officers on the scene. He talked about his feelings about not being able to save more people, and the fact that he felt he hadn’t done enough to help.” In the case of this officer and others like him, Phillips said he listened and pointed out that there was great value in what the officer had done.
“People working in the rubble had so much hope that they would find someone alive,” Phillips said. “I was there to listen to their anguish, their frustration at not finding more people alive and their anger. I just tried to give people a chance to share their experiences so it was not as much of a burden.” Beatrice Plasse, D.S.W., witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center from her apartment near City Hall and was unable to return to her home for days. Despite this, she spent time at Bellevue Hospital, counseling family members who were looking for loved ones. “I tried to make sure they had a support network and that they took care of themselves that they slept, ate, drank and rested,” she said. “I didn’t counsel, but listened carefully for signs that there were problems outside of what could be expected.” Employees of companies with offices near the World Trade Center who witnessed the devastating attack and its aftermath received group counseling from social work and psychology professors who volunteered through the Employee Assistance Program.
“We did basically stress management with these people and talked about what they had seen and their fears,” said Robert Chazin, D.S.W. “In this case it was better for them to talk as a group because they experienced the trauma as a group and they all understood what the others were feeling.” Professors Lisa Colarossi, Ph.D., Dana Holman, D.S.W., Ray Fox, D.S.W., Meredith Hanson, D.S.W., Sandra Turner, Ph.D., and Chaya Piotrkowski, Ph.D., have all volunteered to do counseling, and they continue to provide social services to those suffering in the aftermath of this tragedy. Psychology professor David Chabot, Ph.D., also assisted employees who witnessed the attack and were having trouble coping with what they saw. Psychology Professor Anie Kalayjian, Ph.D., was at the United Nations to deliver a lecture on human rights when the World Trade Center was hit.
That evening she returned to Fordham and put together a symposium for mental health professionals on addressing the immediate crisis and its aftermath. She has since held three training sessions attended by dozens of therapists. She has also fielded calls from around the world, including from Pakistan and England. “Trauma is a specific area of expertise and training within the science of psychology and a lot of mental health professionals are not experts in this area,” she said. “It’s very important to train them so they can effectively help people. It’s also important that they understand their own limitations.” Jeffrey Dyke, Ph.D., director of Counseling Services, held workshops to guide faculty members as they respond to students who are having trouble dealing with the tragedy. Several of Fordham’s students spent time serving food and providing water to firefighters and emergency service personnel downtown; others delivered much-needed supplies to the Salvation Army and designated drop-off centers. And several University offices have sponsored clothing drives.
“It was wonderful to see how all of New York and the country pulled together,” said Elizabeth Rodriguez, a second-year Fordham Law student who volunteered at the Salvation Army and was sent to Bellevue Hospital to hand out food and water on Sept. 11. “Everyone was so appreciative that we were there. On Wednesday I was at the Armory, where as many as 2,000 people went to fill out forms to identify family members and find solace together.” The Rev. Joseph A. Currie, S.J., director of Campus Ministry at Fordham, was also called upon to offer solace to a wife who lost her husband in the attack. The Port Authority Police, which had offices in the World Trade Center, called Father Currie and asked him to accompany them when they notified the woman that her husband, a police officer, did not make it out of the World Trade Center. Additionally, the University has offered space to companies that were displaced when the towers fell.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Campaign Finance Board have both taken advantage of the offer. “We are all looking for ways to help in a practical manner,” said Law School Dean John Feerick at a town hall meeting with students. “We are assessing where needs aren’t currently being met and areas in which our school can be of assistance.” The school has already held a few fund-raisers for the families of fallen firefighters and police officers. John Hollwitz, academic vice president, said the University will continue to assist the city in any manner possible and will strive to meet future needs as they arise. “Historically, Jesuit universities have very close relationships with the cities of which they are a part. This is especially true of Fordham, which has grown with New York City for 160 years,” he said. “Many on the faculty have responded by offering assistance in the efforts to help individuals, the City and the nation. I am certain that this help will continue in the weeks and months to come.”