NYC study program survives 9-11
by Stewart Buettner, Professor of Art History
It was September 16, just five short days after the tragedy of September 11. The students and I were on a walking tour of Manhattan’s Upper West Side when we encountered a firefighter from Engine Company 40/Ladder Company 35. His eyes told us that he wanted to show us something.
He led us to a makeshift shrine to his 11 fallen coworkers that extended out into the street. It was set up like an altar, with photos of the missing firefighters at the center, surrounded by burning candles and fresh flowers. None of us could speak.
The shrine was a poignant reminder of the fragility of human life and the expressive power of art.
As the faculty leader of Lewis & Clark’s New York study program, I arrived in the city on September 7 to make all the necessary preparations. The program’s 14 students were scheduled to arrive, of all days, on September 11. Four were already in the city on the 11th, two staying at our base of operations for the semester, the accommodating Hotel Olcott. As the 11th unfolded, the two early arrivals at the hotel, Midge Greene and Kirsten Collins, came up to my room, and together we watched CNN’s coverage in mute horror.
Three other students—Trevor Looney, Monica Gill, and Kim Reil—were caught in midflight after leaving the West Coast and were forced to land in Salt Lake City and Chicago. The rest had not yet begun their travel to New York. I spent much of the rest of the week on the phone to parents and stranded students, answering questions, attempting to offer guarded reassurance. All students were given the option of withdrawing from the program and enrolling in courses on campus. To my amazement still, all my very courageous young charges decided to remain on the program (though I know they had their doubts) and in some cases, I suspect, sold their parents on the idea.
By September 16, all had arrived in New York, and we began our coursework the next day, catching up on missed classes over the next week.
If I don’t miss my guess, students would say that their courses fully engaged their minds, their hearts, their senses—all of which are so important to the arts. How could a program in New York not accomplish that?
Students studied New York’s architecture by going on walking tours through the city, the theatre by attending plays and discussing them afterward, the visual arts by visiting museums and galleries both inside and outside the city. They also spent two and a half days a week at internships, primarily at arts organizations like the Met, the Whitney, and the Museum of Modern Art. The demands of the program were rigorous. As a result, students (and their faculty leader) learned far more than normal during a regular semester on campus.
I found this group to be the most cohesive of the many off-campus programs I have led, in part because of the events of September 11. Coming back from an evening theatre performance, one of the students, Jeannine Haynes, expressed it best. After I remarked on the degree to which we hung together, Jeannine said, “But Stewart, we all love each other.” Though she may have overstated it somewhat, I think she was right.
As a way of commemorating the dead of September 11, I threw myself and the group into the cultural life of the city, to experience it as if we were living for those whose lives were lost. We worked harder, did far more than in the past, and became fully engaged in this great, undying city as a way of paying tribute to those who can no longer do so.
Stewart Buettner joined Lewis & Clark College in 1973. During his tenure, he has led six off-campus study programs to New York City.
Left: Members of the fall 2001 New York City study program. Front row, from left: Sherrie Takaki ’04, Jason Waite ’03, Merlin Payne-Swayze ’03. Second row, from left: Jeannine Haynes ’03, Kirsten Collins ’04, Stewart Buettner, professor of art history (in cap). Back row, from left: Andrew Dolkart, instructor, Trevor Looney ’03, Kim Reil ’04, Katherine Bovee ’02, Paige Talbot ’02, Midge Greene ’03, Katherine Smith ’03, Monica Gill ’03, and Alexis Matter ’04 (standing at center).
Students reflect on NYC program
“Poised on the brink of entering an atmosphere of great opportunities, great stimulation, and great art, my energies were completely altered when I heard news of the attack on a car radio in the middle of the Jersey Turnpike.
“I first had doubts about my pursuits in the visual arts, which seemed a bit trivial in light of the WTC and world events. I know now the role of art as a powerful means of enriching one’s life experience. And I realize all I can do is live life to the fullest.”
—Katherine Bovee ’02, Art
“Being an economics major, I hadn’t had much exposure to the arts in any academic sense prior to the program. Art, theatre, and architecture are such core elements of New York City, and to be able to study and be exposed to them has been a real privilege. I’ve found a new way to think and see those things around me, which has helped me become a better student.”
—Trevor Looney ’03, Economics
“I was in the air during the attack, and I was diverted to cities across the country in an attempt to get to New York. It was a strange mix of adrenaline and determination, an almost perverted drive to get there.”
—Monica Gill ’03, Art
“I was worried on September 11 that the program would suffer because of fear, but that has not been the case. We have all grown so much and have become a part of this city through the devastation and the rebuilding.”
—Alexis Matter ’04, Undecided
9-11 forum transcripts online
On September 21, Lewis & Clark held a daylong campus forum to engage the College community in a careful, sustained probing of the origins and consequences of the terrorist activities of September 11.