Special Issue: Staff Eases Student Anxieties
Dorms become a hub of support

by Karen Holtermann

20 September 2001 | While classes continued last week, many students found solace in their residence halls — even though some had called Berkeley home for only three weeks.

But floor by floor and unit by unit, campus staff helped give students the setting and support they needed to deal with the tragedy.

“It’s said that tragedy gets a community together, and that’s the way it happened this week for students, faculty and staff,” said Marty Takimoto, special assistant to Harry LeGrande, assistant vice chancellor for residential and student service programs.

LeGrande’s office coordinated a huge effort in living groups to support students, give them a place to discuss unfolding events, and help those who were feeling especially far from home and family.

Common areas throughout the dorms were quickly designated as meeting spaces, where students huddled to hear the news and work through their shock and sadness. Faculty, staff and administrators visited during the day to help out.

“We wanted to provide ‘safe’ spaces where students could watch TV news and express any sentiment they had in a place that was open to them and free of conflict,” said Leslie Evertz, resident director of Unit I on Durant and College.

The dining commons supplied sustenance throughout the day — “some people respond to stress by eating,” Evertz said. During dinner at Unit I, the commons had a TV-free side, for those who needed a break from the relentless news and a TV-equipped side, for students eager for the latest updates.

Evertz, who is from New Jersey and lost six friends in the World Trade Center collapse, said she has tried to be open about her own loss.

“I’ve talked to many students whose family and friends have been affected,” she said. “Some have come to me because they think I’ll understand what they’re feeling. I’ve kept my door open and gotten support right back from students.”

Before students thought to consult campus trauma counselors, resident assistants and student health workers were on the front line in assessing their needs.

“A lot of the work we do is oriented toward caretaking and caregiving,” said Jerlena Griffin, director of Residential Life and New Student Services. “In times like these, we can’t forget to care for the caregivers. Many of our staff were struggling last week. We wanted to make sure they were taken care of.”

Tang Center counselors met with the staff to help them personally and give them the tools they needed to help others.

Griffin said family living groups at Smyth-Fernwald Apartments and Albany Village responded to the tragedy together in a Friday night vigil. Albany Village, home to many international students and their families, “is already a dynamic community, and that served them well in this difficult time,” she said.

Takimoto said the week was especially hard on new students, many far from home for the first time. “This tragedy galvanized them into the Cal community, and we wanted to make sure they found the support they needed here,” he said.


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