Remembering 9/11 in the Archives
by Caroline Donadio, Lead Archivist
September 11, 2001, is a date that defines and divides our history into a “before” and an “after.” It undoubtedly tragically and permanently altered the course of millions of lives and irrevocably changed how we think about ourselves and others. As we approach the 20th anniversary of what remains the deadliest act of terrorism in American history, we have an opportunity to look back, remember, and reflect.
First Sunday Supper at International House, 1925 / I-House Archives
Every year for the past 97 years, International House has welcomed tens of thousands of individuals from over 145 countries. Through thoughtfully designed programming and leadership training, International House provides a space for residents from all different backgrounds to live, connect, and thrive together under one roof. The International House vision is a world where residents and alumni carry the values of respect, empathy, and moral courage to their respective fields and regions.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, in New York City, it was a beautiful and clear day. The academic year had just begun, and International House residents were either rushing to classes or settling into their new surroundings. Few would suspect that the world was about to change forever.
After the second plane flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, International House wasted no time. Staff and RAs worked to confirm the safety and whereabouts of every I-House resident and staff member. President Don Cuneo made it clear that “the first order of business was accounting for each and every resident.” Miraculously, no residents were lost. Meanwhile, residents gathered in the TV lounges and on the 9th-floor terrace to witness the terrifying events unfold throughout the day.
President Don Cuneo, Ambassador Frank Wisner, and Paul Volcker at Sunday Supper, September 23, 2001 / I-House Archives
In the days following, US President George W. Bush declared a ‘War on Terror.’ Less than one month later, the American, British, and Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance) coordinated an invasion of Afghanistan, deploying military forces to destroy al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban regime. During this time, anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner sentiments reached a fevered pitch, and the US government and law enforcement officials enacted disproportionally discriminatory policies under the guise of protecting our national security. Even though the president explicitly stated, “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends,” individuals of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent became the frequent targets of hate and prejudice.
International House has always been a place of tolerance and mutual respect. To combat the new and sudden wave of prejudice and xenophobia, International House held special meetings and programs to support residents who identified as Muslim or were from the Middle East. In the Sunday Supper on September 23, 2001, President Don Cuneo addressed the issue head-on,
“Our sense of what is important has changed, our vulnerability has been highlighted, we in this room are in a unique position at International House to promote cross-cultural understanding, to communicate across and overcome differences, to sustain and champion our unequal diversity of 700 residents from 100 countries and many more cultures.”
President Don Cuneo speaking at Sunday Supper, September 23, 2001 / I-House Archives
Speaking at the same event, Chairman of the Board, Paul Volcker said,
“We are brought together to reinforce what we have in common- what makes I-House distinctive: an institution dedicated to the simple proposition that a peaceful, open-world society must rest on a bedrock of understanding across nations and across cultures.”
Now, 20 years later, we are still grappling with the traumatic aftermath of 9/11 and the decisions made thereafter. While International House continues to offer a space dedicated to facilitating peace and understanding, there has been a rising tide of incitement to discrimination, hatred, and violence against persons based on religion or belief, often fueled by radical nationalist politics. The fight against racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance, as well as efforts to respect and protect fundamental rights, must continue. The International House mission, rooted in the values of respect, empathy, and moral courage, remains now as crucial as ever.
As we near this painful anniversary, as the archivist at I-House, I take comfort in working with these records. The Archives at International House prove that for almost 100 years, our residents have had a well-documented history of building mutual understanding and promoting peace. It is only by working together that we can make the world a better place.
Sunday Supper, 1940s / I-House Archives
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