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From left, College junior Kelly Seaman and Engineering juniors Oveida Norris, Rebecca Carroll, Rachel Webre and Allison Smith watch the news from a big-screen television in the lounge of Harrison College House as the first U.S. air strikes took place in I

As news of the United States' bombing of Iraq spread across campus last night, students gathered around televisions, tuning into the war coverage.

While reaction to President Bush's address to the country varied, a sense of anxiety was widespread.

"There was silence, people were shocked and we were looking to each other for support," Wharton sophomore Aileen Nowlan said. "There were tears and amazement."

Nowlan was one of dozens of students who were watching in Houston Hall as the events unfolded.

Houston Hall will serve as a 24-hour "gathering place... for comfort," according to Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum. "No matter who folks are or where they're from or what they're feeling, we just want to give them a safe and secure place to be able to get through these hours."

Though only a few formal events have been planned by the University thus far, McCoullum said she would be working with University Chaplain William Gipson to inform the community about events planned by different groups.

"It's important to anticipate responses but not get too far ahead, and listen and see what people are asking for," Gipson said.

Among the groups already organizing are Penn for Peace and Penn Students Against War in Iraq -- both of whom plan to attend anti-war protests in Philadelphia today.

Outside of Houston Hall, anti-war discourse was equally prevalent.

"The speech was full of many examples of baseless rhetoric, bloodlust propaganda, blatant and unrepentant historical misinterpretation and inaccuracies and severely misguided and almost God-like self-assurance," College freshman Max Fraser said after watching Bush's speech in his dorm in the Quadrangle with friends.

"The dangerous arrogance with which President Bush announced to the world his plans to 'shock and awe' us all only makes the likelihood of a terrorist response all that more likely," Fraser continued.

Five floors below Fraser, College freshman Jon Baker reacted to Bush's speech with more moderate sentiments.

"At this point, I think it would be easier to believe him, and a part of me kind of wants to believe that invading Iraq will make us safer," Baker said.

"But in light of the lack of solid evidence... I do not feel any safer with this military action," he added.

Others echoed Baker's ambivalence.

"All I know is something needs to be done, but I don't know if this is it," part-time College student and University staff member Mike Hu said. "I may not agree with what the leaders of our country do, but they're the leaders of our country, and I'll support them."

Still others were overcome by emotion, including fear, following Bush's address.

"I'm kind of scared," College freshman Aimee Masters said. "I was with a bunch of friends, and we just sat there and didn't really know how to react."

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