Campus sees only small changes since terror attacks

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It was the day the world changed. “The moment I heard about it, I went straight home,” said Chuck Kurash, a senior art major who had just started his first semester at CSUN on Sept. 11, 2001. “I didn’t know what could happen. I didn’t know if it was safe here and I thought it was a good idea to get home.”

The CSUN administration had the same idea.

Hours after airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the administration canceled classes, sending thousands of students home to watch horrific images of fiery deaths, repeated over and over again on nearly every channel.

Classes resumed the next day as shocked students wondered how life would change for them, and perhaps how their school would change.

“All that week, I was worried that a plane would come in and hit Sierra Tower. Of course nothing ever happened,” Kurash said.

A ceremony took place on the steps of the Oviatt Library on the Friday after the attacks, commemorating the victims of the largest terrorist attacks on the United States.

While the world faced upheaval in the years that followed, campus did not seem to change much. The normal routine continued as new students enrolled and the old students graduated.

Security

“Impact from 9/11 is not much different from other public safety departments around the country,” said CSUN Police Chief Anne Glavin.

A variety of protocols and training have been put in place since the attacks.

“It is sad that it took this tragedy to make more federal funding available to security departments,” Glavin said. “A great deal of grants have been made available to (CSU campus) security.”

The grants have gone to many things throughout the CSU, including communication equipment and other homeland security-related needs.

Glavin said that while she never discusses security specifics, training has been put in place at CSUN regarding terrorism.

“The security issues should be as seamless as usual for the community at large,” Glavin said. “We don’t want to be oppressive to the community. Our intention is to affect the student as minimally as possible.”

The community has been very aware, according to Glavin. Reports of suspicious backpacks have come in, but there have been no issues specifically regarding terrorist activities on campus, she said.

Glavin’s own position as police chief has undergone some changes since 9/11.

She is now a member of a committee on terrorism called the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. This committee meets to establish “best practices,” not mandates, but recommendations for university police responses to terrorist incidents.

“I would have never been on this committee had it not been for Sept. 11.”

International Students

“The most difficult change for international students is obtaining a visa, and then maintaining that visa,” said Roopa Rawjee, foreign student adviser for Student Development and International Programs.

New rules and strict regulations in visa applications give visiting international students produce hurdles to study here.

“It is difficult for them to understand all of the limitations put on them,” Rawjee said.

Aside from the cultural differences, admissions to the university, traveling great distances and adjusting to the United States, international students must adhere to certain requirements for grade point average, course load, and limitations on work opportunities to maintain their visas.

Rawjee said a new online system, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, was implemented in 2003 to track international students.

The program links immigration information to the university, and the information is readily available to U.S. embassies around the world and immigration officials at points of entry.

“No one else has access to this information,” Rawjee said, maintaining that the privacy of the international students remains protected from unauthorized access.

A CSUN international student herself, Rawjee came here in 1998 and said she has seen changes on campus and in United States from when she first arrived.

“People are hesitant to disclose belief or faith, or wear traditional garb,” Rawjee said. “(This is) something that would have happily (been) done at one point in time.”

Rawjee also said CSUN students seem to be supportive of international students, and she said she has only heard of a few negative responses to their presence on campus.

Rawjee did not provide any examples.

Campus

Eric Forbes, director of Admissions and Records at CSUN, had to think for a few moments about the effects the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had on CSUN.

“I’m drawing a blank,” Forbes said. “It was a major shock of course, but time goes on. That is not to say we are not vigilant – we’re more vigilant naturally, but overall, life is back to normal and business as usual.”

He said the university was very careful with incoming mail soon after the terror attacks when packages and letters were being scrutinized because of incidents relating to possible anthrax chemical contamination.

Eric Willis, library systems administrator at the Oviatt Library, also said there has not been much change on campus due to the terror attacks.

“There was a huge change after the (1994 Northridge) earthquake,” Willis said. “But not much of anything from 9/11 to be honest.”

According to certain provisions in the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, among many other things the federal government can examine for national security purposes are the lending records of any library in the United States.

“No, we haven’t been asked to give over any records to the government,” Willis said. “We are prepared to do so if necessary.”

Joel Berejikian, a junior kinesiology major who has an Egyptian mother, said he was not concerned that he might face prejudice at CSUN because of the terror attacks and instability in the Middle East.

“I guess (discrimination) is possible here (at CSUN),” Berejikian said. “Maybe it happens and I don’t know about it, but I haven’t run into it.”

Similarly, CSUN alumna Faten Abdelqader said she has not noticed any discrimination directed toward her.

“I’ve never had problems with people dealing with me,” said Abdelqader, a Palestinian native who graduated earlier this year. “I wear a (head) scarf. I even think people respect me more.”

“People have this misunderstanding that (Middle Eastern) people hate Americans,” she said. “If they do, they hate the government and not the individuals.”

While many people may have assumed there would be as many changes at CSUN as there have been changes around the nation and the world, the university has not changed that much since Sept. 11, 2001, said Professor Mehran Kamrava, former chair of the Political Science Department during the terror attacks.

“We live in a diverse community, and perception openly is that things have not changed much because (of) 9/11,” Kamrava said.

Kamrava said that this is perhaps because Northridge is in Southern California, a very diverse area. He said things might be different if the university was located in a more isolated part of the country.

“In that case, perhaps we would be subject to more fear and prejudice,” Kamrava said.

He said he believes the war in Iraq has had more of an effect on the campus than the terror attacks did, mostly because the attacks were four years ago and the war is ongoing.

Things might be different if the war continues on and if things go badly, Kamrava said.

Robert McDonald, Chris Daines and Julio Morales can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.