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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Nation

20 years later, UH faculty, staff reflect on their 9/11 experiences


Aya Ghoneim/The Cougar

On the morning of 9/11, Student Publications adviser Candy Littleton received a phone call from her coworker around 8:50 a.m.

“Turn on the TV,” her coworker said with a trembling voice. 

Littleton turned on the only television in the Student Publications office located at the Valenti School of Communication and watched in shock as the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City burned.

Soon, everyone in the office gathered around. Together they watched a second plane crash into the south tower as the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history played out on live television.

“My husband works for an airline, and I could remember that night, just cuddling next to him so so so tight, thankful he was next to me and not up in the sky,” Littleton said. “I could not stop crying when watching the news that week.”

Her experience wasn’t unique. In fact, a great portion of the UH community, along with most of the world, spent that entire Tuesday glued to their televisions. 

Students inside the former University Center on Sept. 11, 2001, watching as the 9/11 attacks unfold on live television. | File photo

Students inside the former University Center on Sept. 11, 2001, watching as the 9/11 attacks unfold on live television. | File photo

“I mean, nothing like this had ever been seen before, you know?” Littleton said. “That was the first time something like this had happened.

“And to see it happening live in front of our own eyes. It was just so tragic.”

On the other side of the city

Like Littleton, journalism professor and Houston Chronicle news editor Charles Crixell was also watching the events take place on television. As did many other instructors at UH that day, he canceled class. 

Crixell, who worked in the sports section of the Houston Chronicle at the time of the attacks, remembers the chaos of that day.

“Everyone was either standing still while watching the news coverage or scrambling around trying to figure out how to approach this,” Crixell said. “I don’t quite remember how we pulled it all together, but I do know we produced something special in the end.”

During a historic event like the 9/11 attacks, Crixell said, the structure of a newsroom can change quickly and dramatically.

“Sometimes when big events like this happen, the big breaking news departments always tell other departments to move out of the way. No matter what game was played last night, or what meeting was covered, big events like this are always made the priority,” he said. 

Aftermath

“We’re Houston. We’re a very proud city,” Crixell said. “But that week, that entire week, it was like the world was just feeling for New York City. NYC feels like the epicenter of the country, and we even went as far as rooting for the Yankees. We’d never do that otherwise.”

That week in class, Crixell didn’t do what he had planned in class. Instead, they had a “talk day,” where everyone in all his classes just sat around and talked. Littleton took a similar approach with the staff in her office. 

20 years later

Littleton still tears up when talking about that Tuesday. 

“Everything that followed that attack just feels like a blur,” she said. “The government’s actions were so quick, and soon, we had troops overseas. I’ve always been so conflicted about it.”

This year, UH plans to honor the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Friday by showcasing a photo timeline exhibit near the Student Center South Theater, which can be viewed at any time. 

A ceremony honoring 9/11 victims will also take place in the theater at 9 a.m., and a reception will take place immediately after. 

Crixell uses it as a learning experience for his students now and reminds them of how 9/11 was an example of how newsrooms collaborate on certain world-altering events. 

“’Solemn’ is the word I’d use to describe it,” Crixell said. “It was a sad, unfortunate day for history to be made.” 

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