For a generation of Boston’s college students, it has become the most traumatic week in their collective experience.
Beyond the devastating headlines — a Boston University graduate student killed in the bombing, an MIT officer shot to death — the lives of tens of thousands of young people have been upended. At MIT, some had their studying interrupted by gunfire. At Northeastern, undergraduates who were moments away from sitting down for finals were instead ordered to shut themselves in their dorm rooms.
Ritchie Chen, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was jogging over the Harvard Bridge on Monday when he saw smoke rising from the Marathon bombings. Thursday night, the 24-year-old was studying at a library close to where MIT Officer Sean Collier was shot. Trapped in the library for hours, he said, students listened to police scanners in silence.
“It feels like the world around you is going into anarchy,” he said.
At least 20 area college students were injured in the Marathon bombings. And yet, students who came to study in Boston from all over the nation and world said their love for the city had only grown.
M. Lee Pelton, Emerson College president, spent much of the week taking care of his students, sitting for hours at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center on Monday with seven sorority sisters who suffered cuts and damaged eardrums in the bombing, after they had gone to the Marathon to cheer on classmates. Friday, he visited the dorms and checked in again with the injured sorority women.
The college scheduled makeup classes for Saturday and Sunday because of this year’s snow days and the campus closing on Tuesday. But then the school had to pivot again, canceling the makeup classes on Friday.
Some students may not be ready for finals in the coming weeks, Pelton said, so their professors have been encouraged to make final assignments optional or allow students to take an “incomplete” on their transcripts until they are ready to hand in papers or sit down for exams.
Still, Pelton said, the mood remained one of courage and compassion.
“It’s reaffirmed for the campus that Boston is us and we are Boston. Boston animates us and we animate Boston,” he said. “This happened in our backyard, so to speak. So it felt like — it was a really powerful invasion in our ecosystem.”
Ripples from the week’s extraordinary events reached far beyond the borders of Friday’s “stay home” request, with campuses closed across the region.
At the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the 4,300 residential students were evacuated from campus Friday morning to allow authorities to investigate bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who reportedly worked out at the campus gym Wednesday and attended a party that night. First, students were bused to Dartmouth High School. Then, about 45 who had no way to get home were moved to a local hotel.
At Harvard College, when a weekend program for admitted students to visit campus was canceled, the school quickly found a virtual substitute. Harvard undergraduates, faculty, and alumni tweeted out to high school seniors with the hashtag #virtualvisitas, creating a space for question and answers. “Hi class of 2017!” one student wrote on Twitter. “I’m a senior computer science concentrator, also have been involved in theater. Ask away!”
At Boston University, friends and professors of Lingzi Lu remain in mourning. A group of alumni and trustees has raised more than $575,000 for a scholarship in her honor. Classmates contended with trauma even before she was declared dead, as a Chinese students’ association combed the streets looking for her.
While college students may not be the most obedient population, Kenneth Elmore, Boston University dean of students, said they were for the most part staying inside yesterday, following the recommendation that they take only the usual paths — heavily patrolled — to the dining halls.
“This is that first time they’ve been faced with something that’s big and devastating and difficult to explain for themselves,” Elmore said of many undergraduates. “That’s a tough thing to get your head around.”
MIT students have reason to feel particularly vulnerable — Collier’s shooting death Thursday night came two months after the campus went into lock-down because of a supposed armed assailant, a hoax tied to anger at MIT over the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.
Outside the athletic center at MIT Friday, a mother and father from Utah, who were in town to watch their 23-year-old son play baseball — the game got canceled — were amazed at how empty the campus was and noted that not even their son was willing to defy the “stay in place” order to meet them.
They said they have no reservations about his attending MIT, believing the school has been handling the recent events well — keeping students informed and safe.
“It really makes me feel like he is safe because they have everything locked down,” Liz Mangrum said.
MIT physics major Chris Sarabalis, 21, sat at a picnic table with his laptop, basking in sunshine.
He said he has been flooded with text messages, e-mails, and Facebook messages from friends and family asking if he is OK, and he has been assuring them that he is.
“I don’t feel less safe here or in Boston because some lunatics want to wreak destruction or terror,” he said. “It would be a victory for them if I felt less safe in my home.”
And yet, many students — often far from their families — acutely felt the fragility of their usual safety and routines.
Molly Flynn, a 22-year-old junior at Simmons College, said she stayed awake all night Thursday into Friday, listening to police scanners.
Flynn, a California native who was at her apartment in the Back Bay, said she always has considered Boston to be a very safe city. After witnessing the bombings on Monday, she has cried every day.
“I’ve been crying a little bit in the morning, and I never cry,” she said. “It’s really an uncontrollable thing.”