La Verne Magazine
Life Happens: How to Deal With It
by Terry Birdsall
photography by Liz Lucsko
The consequences of the Sept. 11 attacks have had a lasting effect on the
world. Debbie Roberts, ULV protestant campus minister and director of the
Peace Studies Program, stands next to the peace pole dedicated March 26,
1998, during the International Celebration Week. "May Peace Prevail
on Earth" is stated in eight different languages on the pole.
Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs, like millions of Americans,
recalls what she was doing the day the World Trade Center towers were hit
by airplanes. She had just finished seat-belting her 4-year-old daughter
Lorali in to the car when her husband Ali came out to tell her what happened.
Her original plans were to take her daughter to the fair walk at the Los
Angeles County Fairgrounds but plans changed when she heard about the attacks.
She told her daughter that she could not go to the fair. A disappointed
Lorali asked why. The dean explained that "two buildings have fallen
down, and the whole world is worried about it." Throughout the day
and week, unusual events such as school closing early and flags being displayed
everywhere caused Lorali to ask more questions. Each time her mother would
remind her about the buildings that fell down. Lorali never saw the pictures
of the planes hitting the towers because she is only allowed to watch cartoons
for one hour on Saturday mornings and an occasional movie on video.
Children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Rahmani's sister,
a preschool director, gave her a list of what to say and do for her daughter.
The list ideas included "to limit television exposure because children
don't know it's a rerun, be honest, let them talk, listen and set examples
of how not to have cultural biases." A Business Week article on Oct.
1 states, "Children can have nightmares, wet the bed or feel a loss
of security worrying about the death of their parents. It's important to
return them to their normal routine as soon as possible."
"United we stand" are words that have regained significance
in the lives of Americans since the attack against the nation on Sept. 11.
People across the country are re-evaluating life as they once knew it. Things
that seemed important now have little value. Many have a new perspective
"What really is important is spending time with my family,"
says Derek Vergara, executive director for the institute for multicultural
research and campus diversity. Canceling a business trip two days before
leaving is out of character for him. "My work is who I am," explains
Vergara. He says he wasn't afraid to fly. Instead, he was concerned for
his family and what they were thinking since the terrorist attacks and anthrax
scare. "I would rather you not go, but if you need to-go," says
his wife. "What's important to me is how you feel," says Vergara.
Life for the Vergara's, as well as for other Americans is more precious
now and is not taken for granted.
Many foreign college students from the Middle East were frightened about
repercussions in America after the attacks and have returned home to be
with their families. An Oct. 5 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education
written by Beth McMurtrie states that "Arab students in the United
States headed for home due to increasing hostility, but Americans studying
overseas are largely staying put, for now." Although there were no
immediate threats to their safety, the students were pressured by their
parents to return home. According to Phil Hofer, ULV director of international
student services, the students themselves are not sure they want to study
here due to possible interrogations by the police or the Federal Bureau
of Investigation. "Even if the students are innocent, they might be
accused of doing something wrong." One ULV student is concerned about
the visa being tightened because he travels frequently back and forth across
the Mexican border to visit his family. Enrique Gutierrez, a Mexican student,
explained that the inspections are more detailed, lines are longer, and
it takes up to seven hours to get across the border. "I understand
why, but at the same time you feel like a criminal." Currently, there
has been no change in the "F" visa law that allows international
students to move from one university to another. "The greatest impact
on the international students is the uncertainty that they will be able
to come back to finish their studies after visiting home," says Hofer.
Veronica Moncayo, ULV foreign student from Ecuador, was surprised by
the terrorist attacks but not necessarily amazed. In her country, terrorism
is a part of life so she is used to it. "No one understands the way
others feel unless they go through that themselves. What amazed me most
was the shock from the people here when they know what is going on in other
parts of the world," says Moncayo.
A survey report by the Rand Corporation published in the Los Angeles
Times on Nov. 15 recommends "the need for quick response by counselors,
teachers and clergy to help people deal with disasters, even for people
far from the attack sites."
The administrators of the University of La Verne made the decision to
keep the University open the morning of Sept. 11. Local law enforcement
officials confirmed there was no immediate danger to the University. "We
felt the campus environment would provide an ideal setting for conversations
about feelings, events and possible outcomes of the day's disasters,"
says president of the university Stephen Morgan. A variety of forums for
discussion were held. Dr. Morgan explained that some were large public events,
some were in classes and some were simply two people sharing their thoughts
and reactions. The main purpose of the forums was to provide an outlet for
people to share their feelings and gain information about the events that
would be helpful.
Another college was not so lucky. "A student from the University
of Santa Clara missed her scheduled flight and was later booked on one of
the planes that crashed in to the World Trade Centers," says Dr. Morgan.
"The campus was badly shaken when they heard the tragic news."
Asked about the effects the terrorist attacks have had on La Verne,
Dr. Morgan answers, "The impacts of the terrorist attacks have been
far reaching in our community in terms of emotional challenges it has caused.
Everyone has experienced a full range of anger, sadness, fright and consternation.
Life will never be the same for those who shared the experiences of Sept.
11. As events unfold, our perspectives continue to change. Because the University
is the collective, it has changed as we have changed." Studies from
the Rand Corporation survey published in the Los Angeles Times "found
that 35 percent of children older than 5 had problems, and 47 percent worried
about their safety, according to their parents."
To ensure the safety of ULV students and faculty, patrols were increased
and an emergency operation center was set up the day of the attack. The
center was located in the President's Dining Room with a modified Security
crew overseeing television, computer and office supplies. "The terrorist
attacks gave us the opportunity to evaluate the system," says John
Lentz, director of campus security and transportation. There is also a portable
generator available in the event of a power outage. "We have urged
that all maintain a greater awareness of their surroundings and those who
are in their presence," cautions Dr. Morgan.
Since the attacks, there have been no incidents on campus that are directly
related. A bomb threat in Founders Hall during midterms was determined to
be a juvenile prank called in by a young person from a pay phone off campus.
There were a couple of calls about suspicious mail received by the Communications
Department after a ULV security bulletin warning about the anthrax biological
concerns circulated in the mail. One legal-sized bulky letter with no return
address, too much postage, with political handwritten profanity messages
on the front, and a sticker across the seal on the back of the envelope
telling George Bush to "Go to Hell"arrived in the journalism campus
mail bag. Journalism faculty called campus security; the classroom was sealed
off, and the package was isolated until the La Verne Police Department arrived
to inspect it in the building. It contained 13 single-spaced hand-typed
pages, front and back, of ranting radical religious messages, mixing Osama
bin Laden's name with George Bush's name. A meticulously hand-drawn color
picture of bin Laden graced the front page. No anthrax was found after a
careful microscopic examination of the letter by Dr. Jay Jones, ULV professor
of biology and biochemistry. Dr. Jones was called in by Department Chair
Dr. George Keeler after the La Verne Police Department twice refused to
forward the letter to a hazardous materials team for analysis, despite the
expressed fears of the Communications Department faculty, staff and Campus
Security. At the same time, another letter was received by the Department
with tape across the seal as if it had been opened. "We determined
that someone probably opened the second letter to find out where to send
it," says Lentz.
In a symbolic act of defense, Brian Tresner, network/computer lab support
manager at ULV, takes part in his ULV Tae Kwon Do class with Adam Porpora
(rear). Tresner holds a blue belt in the sport he has practiced for five
years with wife Penny, holder of a first red belt. Toks Oduwole instructs
the ULV activity class.
The ULV Counseling Center was not any busier after the crisis although
time was made available the first two weeks after the crisis to provide
help to anyone who needed it. Graduate students currently being counseled
came in for other reasons and brought up safety issues. "They had concerns
for their children's safety and how to reassure them," says Rick Rogers,
Jr., Ph.D., director of the university counseling center. Other grad students
and undergrads with no children who were thinking of having children asked,
"Is this a safe world to bring a child into." He explained that
the counselors basically listen to the student's concerns, evaluate them
and try to normalize fears and understand what their fears or anxiety are.
"We try to help them maintain a normal life pattern during a stressful
time like this."
Heidi Perez, a part-time College Accelerated Program for Adult students
with two teenage boys, says, "I think we need to be careful about what
we read and see in the media and filter out what may or may not be true
or accurate." Part of coping with life's tragedies is being able to
disseminate information and take a break from reality to organize and reflect
on one's thoughts.
Debbie Roberts, ULV protestant campus minister and director of the peace
studies program, explains that in our fast-paced society, people don't listen
to the spirit within them. "I tell the students to listen to their
intuition, the spirit within," says Roberts. "The problem is people
are not used to sitting quietly and listening." She shared that a person's
traditions help them to find presence, and it's important to pay attention.
For some people, the presence is named God. Spirituality helps people to
be calm, to have patience and to be aware of the big picture that each person
is a small part of. "It helps us to set a direction in life,"
says Roberts, "to know who we are in the scheme of things." Talking
to others of the same faith can help ease fear and panic and strengthen
beliefs. A statistic recorded by the Rand Corporation survey reveals that
"nearly everyone-98 percent -talked with others about their thoughts
and feelings. Nine in 10 turned to religion and 60 percent participated
in group activities such as discussions and vigils."
How to cope with the crisis was an issue addressed in an article published
by the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 19 written by Lynn Smith. The article
stated that one of the coping mechanisms to use was the primitive method
of crying as a natural response that can lead to both mental and physical
healing. "Some researchers say that crying can have health benefits,
such as easing muscle tension and may eliminate toxins created by stress."
People affected by divorce, the death of a loved one or the loss of
a job have already experienced many of the symptoms related to dealing with
a crisis. Their symptoms may have increased in light of the terrorist attacks,
or they may have been able to handle it better because they knew how to
deal with it. Some of these people have learned to live one day at a time
or in the moment because they realize first hand that each moment is precious.
Asking for help is one of the best ways to overcome feelings of despair.
Isolation on the other hand can cause a person to become despondent and
depressed. People need people to survive. When a person loses a loved one,
they are not the only person who is affected by the loss. There is a rippling
affect on all the lives that were touched by the person who is gone.
Exercise and eating right are particularly important in coping with
stress. Rex Huigens, ULV professor of movement and sports science, says
too much fat can clog the arteries which makes the heart work harder while
too little fat can be detrimental for fighting off illness. "It's a
very basic system; you take in fewer calories than you use," explains
Huigens. Walking is becoming more popular because people have someone to
talk to. "The key for most people is finding an exercise they like
to do," he says. Focus on progress, not perfection for good results.
Besides the physical benefits of exercising and eating right, other advantages
include increased concentration, better sleep, less irritability and reduced
Yoga is another method of exercise as well as meditation to calm and
sooth the body and soul in a world with constant change. The word Yoga means
union or balance. It is not a religion, so any person can benefit from it.
There are about 40 different types of yoga, and each has a positive way
for reducing negative energy in a person's life. Some advantages to yoga
are it cultivates a calm state of mind; it strengthens physical flexibility,
and it reduces anxiety. It has been around for centuries and is considered
a holistic approach to healing health problems.
Taking care of our body, mind and spirit is no different than changing
the oil in a car regularly to make sure it runs well. It's just common sense
that a person's body, mind and spirit will most likely function better when
it is maintained regularly. Even so, there are no guarantees in life. Mind,
body and spirit are interconnected with how people cope with life and tragedy.
Is there really a way to balance these factors when change is a constant
factor in life? Does a person really have any control over this? According
to the book "The Life You've Always Wanted," written by Pastor
John Ortberg of Willow Creek Church, the truly significant quest in life
should be a well-ordered heart. How a person makes choices on a daily basis
has to do with where their heart is focused. "A well-ordered heart
is to love doing the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way,
with the right kind of love."
As a nation, Americans have come together to demonstrate love for their
country and fellow persons. Normal citizens, not celebrities are recognized
as heroes who protect and serve members of our country. The importance of
life and freedom is profoundly eminent today since the aftermath of Sept.