Tragedy Shapes Student Groups





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The day two planes crashed into the World Trade Center heralded a year of changing mind-sets, shifting priorities and lives made surreal.

Even in the microcosm of the UC Berkeley campus, Sept. 11, 2001, caused a shift in the pulse of student life. Student groups falling at opposite ends of the political, ethnic and religious spectrum found themselves scrambling to address the events of the tragedy in their plans for the year.

For some groups boundaries were redefined, while other groups were solidified.

For Berkeley College Republicans, the year after Sept. 11 was one of increased strength on campus.

"Sept. 11 made members of our group more patriotic and also brought out more people who were Republican because they saw us out there being vocal," said Bret Manley, Berkeley College Republicans President.

Manley said his group's numbers have increased by nearly 100 within the past year, which he attributed to the aftermath of the attacks.

"The amount of members who joined this past year is really out of the ordinary for a year's amount of time," he said. "We found that after last September, people started getting less and less timid about being Republican on campus."

Fundraising activity has also gone up, Manley said.

The group purchased 2,000 U.S. flags to distribute on campus today.

Ethnically affiliated groups such as the Muslim Students Association have not had it so easy. For Omair Kamil, the organization's vice president, the terrorist attacks forced the group to implement major changes on the group's plans for the year.

"After Sept. 11, we found that our plans for the semester were thrown into a complete disarray," he said. "So we trashed the plans we had in order to respond to the event by trying to educate people about Islamic beliefs, not what the media portrays Islam to be."

The Muslim Students Association put on events emphasizing sensitivity, including an open prayer session and various forums, which were intended to dispel common stereotypes.

"We had a lot of people come up to us after events we had and say that they had learned a lot," Kamil said.

For Kamil's group, part of spreading understanding meant breaking down commonly held ideas about Islam.

"A lot of times, the media portrays jihad as meaning 'holy war' when it actually means 'struggle,'" he said. "A lot of people don't understand that it can mean an inner spiritual struggle, or it can also mean standing up against oppression."

Despite their efforts, however, group members still felt threatened by the anti-Arab sentiment that followed the attacks. The group received hate mail and established escort services for female members.

"There wasn't a huge backlash, but people still felt threatened," Kamil said. "This ended up bringing the community a lot closer though."

Kamil said the dynamic of his group also evolved toward a more politicized movement.

"9/11 caused another aspect of the political arena to open up-one that included Southeast Asians," he said.

The Muslim Students Association also began collaborating and sponsoring events with MEChA, the Afghan Students Association and the UC Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, putting on events such as Standing Up for Justice Week, during the spring, which addressed the importance of civil liberties and U.S. involvement in the rest of the world.

"What happened definitely brought the minority community together," Kamil said. "After Sept. 11, there was an increase in discrimination and racial profiling against Muslims, and this was something that we shared with the Latino and African American communities, which have been going through this for a long time."

But while the attacks last September united some groups, other campus groups found they created a diversity of opinions and lack of consensus on the issue.

Members of Cal Berkeley Democrats declined to comment on the way Sept. 11 changed their group's political outlook, saying one statement could not cover the organization's wide range of perspectives about Sept. 11.

Members of BAMN said the events of last September allowed them to refocus their initial objective of reversing the ban on affirmative action to include a wider group of people facing discrimination.

"We're still an organization trying to build a new society based on equality, but our goals are in a new context now," said BAMN member Ronald Cruz. "The threat of anti-Arab and racist backlash and the threat of imperialist war meant that our fight against racism had international importance."

Members of BAMN distributed green armbands for students who took a pledge, Cruz said.

"Those who have the armband on their backpacks and on their arms are saying 'we are organized to mass self defend Jews, Arabs, Muslims, immigrants and anyone else facing racial scapegoating after Sept.11," Cruz says.

For groups like Korea Campus Crusade for Christ, the events of last September inspired the ministry to make Afghanistan a destination on its regular summer trips to countries like Mongolia, Thailand, China and Vietnam.

"When we went there, we saw the other side of the story," said Rose Kim, a UC Irvine senior who went to Afghanistan with the group. "We found that many people we spoke to didn't agree with the bombing, and they thought it was a terrible and violent act."

Kim said the trip put a face on the war on terror.

"We met a lot of the students at the university and saw them slowly becoming more contemporary and more free, now that the Taliban is out of power," she said. "They like having choices now-they said the Taliban used to take attendance in the mosques and charge a fine if they weren't there to pray five times a day."

UC Berkeley senior Calvin Lee, who also went on the trip, said his interactions with the Afghan people changed his view of the post-Sept.11 world.

"We saw things that we would never see on TV or read about in a classroom," he said. "Instead of sitting around discussing what is happening on the other side of the world, we were there, seeing, feeling and tasting everything these people went through every day."

Other student groups who do not usually affiliate themselves politically, religiously or culturally found the reverberations of last September permeated their usual routines.

The Squelch comedy show fell on the night of Sept. 11, and the comedy magazine's writers and editors found themselves not knowing what to expect.

"It was definitely a hard crowd to warm up," said Squelch staffmember Ryan Pauley. "But surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the funnier comedy nights that semester. The general attitude of the comedians was that this horrible stuff has happened, but there's not much we can do about it except laugh-so we did."

But decisions about the content of the publication the Heuristic Squelch became stickier after Sept.11.

Pauley said the staff just took things in stride and tried to be as lighthearted and tasteful as possible.

Pauley was faced with the task of pasting Osama bin Laden's face on the body of a female member of Danceworx as a spoof on the terrorist making an MTV appearance.

"I remember designing the page with Osama bin Laden getting ready for his dance number and being afraid that it would be received badly," he said. "But people really liked it. When something like this happens, you can never be sure beforehand how people will react."

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