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9/11 changed campus sense of security

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Front Page


Reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, university officials described Brandeis as a campus with stronger security protections. Religious leaders depicted Brandeis as a university promoting and practicing religious tolerance following the 2001 terrorist attacks that sparked a national discussion about religious extremism.

“Terrorism was a million miles a way 10 years ago,” Senior Vice President for Administration Mark Collins said. “The university was always considered the home to the students. 9/11 made our responsibility to their safety [stronger].”

From a security perspective, Brandeis implemented changes immediately to increase preparedness for terrorist attacks and awareness about campus safety.

Because Brandeis is filled with international students and hosts controversial speakers and politicians who debate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the university often coordinates with federal law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security to ensure the campus remains secure, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan said.

Public safety coordination extends locally to the Waltham Police Department, state law enforcement officials and to other federal agencies.

Bio-medical research and animal rights activism is another cause for increased security threats on campus, Callahan said, explaining that the university receives hate mail and must investigate threats to protect community members.

“It’s a [system of] very continuous checking,” Callahan said in a phone interview Thursday. “You can’t be asleep at the switch here.”

After Sept. 11, Brandeis installed close circuit televisions and security cameras, a program that Peter French, former Chief Operating Officer, helped promote, according to Callahan.

Other security changes included upgrading the transportation system, releasing emergency preparedness plans and launching an emergency notification system, as mandated by the Department of Education. At Brandeis, the notification system includes text messages for students who register and also includes campus sirens to be used in a range of threatening situations.

Immediately after 9/11, some advocated for stricter security protocols, including firearms for university police officers, a gated entrance at the front of the school and a 10-foot fence.

“My answer to that was: Then the terrorists think you have something to hide,” Callahan said. “There’s a balance between security and freedom, and it’s obviously tougher on a university campus.”

Following the 2008 Virginia Tech shooting massacre that left more than 30 students dead, Brandeis launched a series of committees and decided to arm its police officers. Officials reached that decision because they feared that if Waltham Police officers became occupied with a crisis in town, Brandeis Police should be prepared to deal with a crisis on their own in its immediate aftermath, Callahan said.

A community of religious tolerance

But just as 9/11 forced Brandeis to adopt a range of new security measures, religious leaders found a community that embraced tolerance over the past decade.

“The level of tolerance is excellent not just because of the openness of the students,” but also because of “the administration at Brandeis, the people who are working here. Religion properly used can be a very positive instrument to promote justice and peace,” Rev. Walter Cuenin, coordinator of the Interfaith Chaplaincy said during an interview in his office Thursday. “I think any time religion is used in a fundamentalist way, it’s dangerous.”

Muslim chaplain Imam Talal Eid explained that the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, violated the practices and ideals of their own religion.

“I never expected to see Muslims who claim that they are practicing the faith and then see them committing a crime against humanity,” Eid said.

At Brandeis, Eid praised the students and administration for creating a spirit of acceptance.

Cuenin noted that on Friday afternoon Muslim students pray in the Usdan Student Center, just hours before Orthodox Jews use the space for Sabbath prayers in the evening, fostering religious tolerance on campus.

“Does your religion have to be false for mine to be true?” Cuenin asked. “The answer is no.”

“People need to know one another beyond the boundaries of religion,” Eid said. “We understand that the creator is one.”9/11 changed campus sense of security