Administrator recalls 9/11 and how it brought the campus together

Laney Ruckstuhl

Dino DiBernardi, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Development, recalls his experience on Sept. 11, 2001 as a day that students, faculty and staff came together to combat tragedy.

DiBernardi has worked at Appalachian State University for more than 33 years and was serving as Director for the Center of Student Involvement and Leadership on that day. He was in a staff meeting when someone interrupted to let them know the first plane had hit the tower.

That morning, televisions throughout Plemmons Student Union displayed the news, until later that afternoon a large monitor was set up in Grandfather Mountain Ballroom.

“Students were looking for a place where they could combine and see what was going on as the day unfolded,” DiBernardi said. “I think at first, before the towers fell, folks weren’t sure what had happened.”

DiBernardi said it was not until the towers had fallen that the scope and reality of the event started to sink in.

“It was kind of disbelief,” he said. “It almost was surreal. It didn’t really look real, and then I think as the day went on, more and more students were trying to find places to connect with each other. You saw a lot of students on the phone or trying to reach people at home. I think a lot of folks were just trying to find some connection.”

DiBernardi said the student union became a focal point and overall gathering place that day for faculty and students alike.

“There was a lot of opportunity to facilitate conversation that day, both formally and informally,” he said.

In addition to the student union, the counseling center and residence halls also served as gathering and conversational places on Sept. 11 and the days that followed.

“It was a significant moment in the lives of a lot of students,” he said. “I think every generation has a life event that kind of transcends who they are as individuals and defines, and it’s one of those times that you remember where you were, when…”

DiBernardi said he thinks it was important in the lives of everyone, but held a special prominence in the lives of college-aged students.

Following the day of tragedy, vigils, memorials, and conversations occurred across Appalachian’s campus.

“Things just stopped,” he said. “In a very real sense, things stopped.”

DiBernardi said he remembers the days following distinctly because so many things were cancelled, though classes met if possible.

“All air flights and everything was cancelled,” he said. “Just not seeing planes go back and forth in the sky and things like that that you take for granted. You noticed the little things like that that happened, or didn’t happen. I think a lot of people reconnected and kind of assessed what was important.”

DiBernardi said he thinks the terrible event brought out the best in people.

“I think it brought the community together in a way that otherwise would not have happened and demonstrated where we’re probably at our best, and that is in caring for each other,” he said.

DiBernardi also referenced more recent events on campus, such as the disappearance of Anna Smith and the reports of numerous sexual assaults since the beginning of the school year, as being events that rally the community together.

“You have the initial splash, but then it’s all the ripple effects that go out,” DiBernardi said.

Story: Laney Ruckstuhl, News Editor