How another university coped -- and still is

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Few colleges have ever had to cope with a violent tragedy even approaching the magnitude experienced at Virginia Tech Monday —- “thank God,” says Judy O’Rourke, who, as director of undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, can imagine the pain in Blacksburg today all too well.

For while the circumstances were very different, Syracuse too lost an overwhelming number of students to violence when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Thirty-five Syracuse University students returning from study abroad were among the victims of the terrorist bombing. Nearly 20 years later, the reverberations still recoil.

“That was a huge number of people,” says O’Rourke, who has coordinated much of the university’s response to the Pan Am bombing from the beginning, when she worked as an assistant to the vice president of undergraduate studies (who oversaw the study abroad program). “Virginia Tech might find this very similar feeling: There was no college, no faculty, no residence hall, no group that wasn’t affected by having some member of their community either on Pan Am 103 or studying closely with those people.”

“For us, it was a huge impact.”

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