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When the bombs went off at the finish line just over a week ago on April 15th, I have never seen such an abrupt scenery change in such a small period of time.  It was a gorgeous and sunny day, the last tailgate of the year in the senior housing area. Students were laughing, happy, and reminiscing as the official end to tailgating was 3pm. I am a Resident Director, and as part of our role we were there supervising tailgate and informing students that tailgating was going to end soon. As I walked around, I began to notice that many students were already indoors which was very peculiar.  Students began coming out of their apartments in tears saying “there’s been an explosion at the finish line!” Some students were coming outside to call parents or friends running in the race, others were coming outside to find a friend or receive a hug.  In an instant, my role was flipped from disciplinarian/tailgate monitor to a crisis responder and counselor.  Students were coming up to us begging for any information we may have had about the bombing and the anxiety levels continued to increase as students did the math—if their friends were at Mile 21 at Boston College about 40 minutes ago, they could be in the wake of the explosion.  Many students became anxious as phone lines turned off which subsided into a period of quiet and waiting either glued to the TV or outside.  As I continued to help calm students, I was also on-call and so simultaneously I was working with colleagues to create a plan to check in with our student runners and make sure that we had a staff presence at each of the residence halls.

My colleagues and I then began dispersing from our concentrated presence back in the senior area and made our way back to our residence halls, unsure of the student reaction.  When I came back to check with my first-year students I found the lounge packed with residents all intently watching TV and relentlessly checking the Google Doc that students created to keep track of the runners who checked in and were safe.  There was an eerie silence around the building as I walked the halls and saw room after room of students silently waiting for any news.  I realized that the best I could do for my residents was to have a continued presence so that residents knew I was available to talk—so I joined residents in the lounge and waited, listening to the news.  Additionally, I sent a message to the RAs going on-call for that evening informing them of other counseling and crisis support services that were available.  Later that evening, I joined my RAs on rounds knocking on each resident door to check in with them with snacks and candy.  The news I heard from the residents was a mix of reassuring and frightening—I had 5 residents running the Marathon, 3 we had heard from, 2 we hadn’t (all ended up being okay).  Residents had family friends they knew who were injured in the blast, many residents were thankful that friends and family they knew were safe.  As the night went on, I knew that I needed to get some rest as I had no idea what the next few days would hold with follow-up.

Friday morning, we awoke to BC emergency text messages informing us that classes had been cancelled and messages from supervisors that we were to shelter in place and ensure that our residents did not leave the building.   One of my RAs called and asked what she could do to help so immediately we were back in crisis mode only days after Monday’s events.  She made signs while I created shifts for RAs to monitor the doors, making sure that no one was sitting too closely to the door or window in case a shooter could approach. I sat in a chair out in the hallway and waited, unsure of what may happen. Several residents were confused and wanted to go outside on a gorgeous Boston day, and when I explained that we were concerned for their safety and we wouldn’t want anything to happen, they easily complied. All of the residents were very cooperative and had positive attitudes to a very uncertain situation.  Lunch and dinner breaks were an interesting sight to see—imagine getting 300 residents ready to go to lunch when they only had a 20 minute window to be fed and back again escorted by police!  The RAs did a fantastic job getting all of the residents together for both lunch and dinner, going around to each floor making sure that residents knew this would be their only window to get food during the day.  When we realized that the lockdown may not be lifted, the RAs and I planned a pancake breakfast that the residents were excited about as late-night dining would not be available.  After dinner, we discovered that the ban was lifted and immediately residents went outside with footballs and Frisbees to enjoy the last good weather of the day.  The tone was very different than a “typical” Friday night; residents were planning to stay in the halls and the mood was still very quiet.  It was clear the events of the day had affected them.

That night, we “celebrated” the news that the perpetrator was safely brought to justice without harm to more law enforcement officials with our pancake breakfast and we still had over 120 residents attend. It was a wonderful time to come together as a community after a roller-coaster of the week. Throughout the week, I kept reflecting on the best gift that I could give which was presence to my students—whether it was sitting in the lounge, walking around with snacks, or preparing a pancake breakfast.  I was touched and surprised to see that Saturday morning I already had 2 huge thank you notes taped to my door in appreciation that students felt safe. While this week was one of the longest and most challenging and filled with grief, it was good to know that my presence impacted the students in a positive way.  As the city and the nation continues to heal, I know that students will reflect on this week for weeks and years to come and I hope to continue to support them in their healing.

The author was a Master’s candidate in the Boston College Higher Education program and a Resident Director at a local college at the time of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  The author’s views are their own and do not represent those of any institution, entity or individual.  Please feel free to share this on your social network of choice using the link icons below.  We also welcome you to share your reactions and stories in the comments section below so we may all benefit from your thoughts and wisdom. 

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