New York University: On the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, NYU Remembers

Given our unique location in downtown New York City, the 9/11 attacks had a profound impact on the NYU community. For the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, we’re inviting alumni, faculty, administrators, staff, and others who were on campus in the fall of 2001 to share their memories from that time. Read the introduction below and consider submitting your reflection. We’ll publish a selection of these stories on this page.

The World Trade Center’s twin towers were visible from Washington Square Park when two planes—American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175—hijacked by the militant terrorist group al-Qaeda flew into the buildings on the morning of September 11, 2001. Within two hours of the suicide attacks, the towers collapsed as a crowd that had gathered in the park watched in horror.

While the destruction didn’t reach our campus, NYU was the major university closest to Ground Zero. Some NYU community members lost loved ones that day. Six downtown residence halls—home to over 2,000—had to be evacuated, with students temporarily housed in the Coles Sports Center. Classes were canceled for three days, in keeping with city guidance to curtail activities below 14th Street so first responders had more room to work.

In a message to the NYU community on the evening of September 11, President Jay Oliva and President-Elect John Sexton wrote: “There may be difficult days ahead. We are a close-knit community, and we should rely on one another. We should not be afraid to turn to one another for help, and we should be quick to offer it to one another. It is hard to capture this tragedy—this crime—in words, but we will say this: if New York City is known for anything, it is known for its determination, its courage, and endurance. We share more than a name with this city—we share its characteristics and its virtues.”

There is no doubt that the events of 9/11 changed NYU forever. Researchers examined the tragedy and trauma from every angle, beginning work that continues today in fields as diverse as medicine, engineering, psychology, and politics. The University strengthened its campus safety and security protocols and emergency alert systems, and developed programming and resources to support members of our Muslim community amid rising Islamophobic violence and discrimination in New York and nationwide. And instead of shying away from an association with a place that had lost so much, NYU only strengthened ties to a city that proved strong, resilient, and eager to rebuild.

“Do we want to play up our New Yorkness, or is this a time where we play down our New Yorkness? We decided this is the time when you play it up,” recalls Lynne Brown, now Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs. (For more accounts from NYU leaders at the time, read the 9/11 chapter from the 2015 book In Our Own Voice: An Oral History of New York’University’s Dramatic Transformation, starting on page 142.)

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of that dark day in New York—and in the spirit of coming together in difficult times—NYU News invites any members of the NYU community who were here then to share their own memories (as well as any images from the time) of September 11, 2001, and its afermath. We will publish a selection of submissions on this page.

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