9/11 reflections with Sidonia M. Dalby: The weight and smell of the air

  • People flee from downtown Manhattan after planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 in New York City. AP

Published: 9/10/2021 11:21:56 AM

On 9/11, I was in my office at Smith College with upcoming plans for an annual women’s college recruitment trip to Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) with colleagues from Mount Holyoke and Wellesley.

The World Trade Center was a close neighbor to BMCC. So close that the New York Port Authority established their Command Central in the main campus building and the gym was set up for triage with first aid kits and supplies from the BMCC Nursing Department for victims.

Late in the afternoon of 9/11, 7 World Trade Center, collapsed on Fiterman Hall, home to classrooms and offices. According to their website, “BMCC is the only college in US history to have lost a campus building to a terrorist attack.”

BMCC lost phone and internet service but remarkably, resumed classes on Oct. 1. Our BMCC transfer contact asked that we visit as planned to help students resume normal activities.

While we were a bit anxious about the logistics of the trip, we wanted to help. For the rest of my life, I will always remember the weight and smell of the air we breathed that day. It was sobering to be a part of the scene we watched on the news; chain link fences everywhere were peppered with photos of the missing and pleas for help. Security was tight, but we were treated like VIPs when we arrived with admission publications and a bouquet of flowers. The view from our meeting room looked directly onto ground zero.

A woman who later transferred to Smith told me she walked miles that day pregnant with twins, to get home from lower Manhattan. BMCC lost students and alumni on 9/11. Fiterman Hall was razed and rebuilt. BMCC remains a remarkable place with remarkably resilient people who endured unimaginable pain as a good neighbor to the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Sidonia M. Dalby


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