University, Community Evolve under Shadow of Kent State Shootings

By Reeger, Jennifer | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

University, Community Evolve under Shadow of Kent State Shootings


Reeger, Jennifer, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


In 13 seconds, everything changed.

Four families lost their children. Nine students were riddled with shrapnel. A college campus in Ohio is forever linked to those seconds on May 4, 1970.

When the gunfire at Kent State University ended, a nation was left stunned and asking how it could have happened.

In the 40 years since members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire at a common area full of students, law enforcement, society and the government have made significant changes. Eighteen-year-olds gained the right to vote, different crowd control methods were developed -- in part because of what happened at Kent State -- and students were given a greater voice at universities.

"It was a moment that brought home for a lot of people that the nation was in a profound crisis, that young people in uniform were shooting and killing people on the college campuses," said Angus Johnston, a professor at City University of New York and a student activism historian.

The events that led to the shootings began May 1 when students protested the government's decision to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia. Violence that night prompted Kent's mayor to ask Ohio Gov. James Rhodes to call in the National Guard.

Troops arrived the evening of May 2 after protesters burned the campus ROTC building.

Two days later, troops patrolling a noontime anti-war rally fired 67 rounds, killing four students: Allison Krause of Churchill; Jeffrey Miller of Plainview, N.Y; Sandra Scheuer of Boardman, Ohio; and William Schroeder of Lorain, Ohio. Krause and Miller were taking part in the protest. Scheuer and Schroeder were walking to class when they were shot.

Shockwave

News of the shootings reverberated at college campuses across the country. Millions of students staged walkouts, and campuses shut down.

Marty Kurta, 62, of North Union, Fayette County, was a senior at Kent State. He had taken part in protests but was not in the rally that afternoon.

"All of us were in shock," said Kurta, now an insurance broker.

He said campus life stopped after the shootings.

"Everything was disrupted," he said. "People literally ran from the town to go home. It became a ghost town."

Hempfield resident Gilbert Gall was a freshman that spring at Wayne State University in Michigan, a commuter college for working- class students.

Gall, 59, a Detroit native who works as a union organizer for the Pennsylvania State Education Association office in Hunker, said the campus closed for two days after the shootings. When classes resumed, professors set aside course work to talk about what had happened at Kent.

"For younger people, college-aged people, it had the same type of shock impact as the Robert Kennedy assassination and the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination," Gall said. "It seemed as though the power structure was turning against students."

The deaths at Kent State changed student activism, Johnston said.

With the voting age set at 21 in the 1960s, he said, students had no other outlet but to stage mass protests. A year after Kent State, the age was lowered to 18, and protests gave way to organizing voter drives.

Universities started to include students in campus governance, Johnston said. Black student unions, women's studies courses and gay and lesbian groups formed to give students a voice.

Now, as then, many student protests focus on issues that directly impact them, such as recent rallies across the country to protest reductions in state funding for higher education. …

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