Kent State University is a place that is dear to my heart. I spent six years there as a campus minister, established a number of lifelong friendships and began my married life with Lori there. In fact, it was on front campus on a sunny October afternoon nearly twelve years ago that I asked her to marry me.
It is because of my fondness for Kent that I was disappointed to learn about the student-led riots that took place this past weekend that led to tense altercations with police and multiple arrests.
It is almost 39 years to the week that tragedy fell on the campus on May 4, 1970. On that day four Kent students were killed by bullets from the National Guard during a protest of the Vietnam war. Four decades later this event remains one of the primary symbols of that era of American history.
The most recent disturbance seems to have been a party that got out of hand. Near the end of final exams students often want to blow off some steam and alcohol is typically involved. A recent article on KentNewsNet.com outlines what happened, but it sounds like there were a lot of students partying outside, the police showed up and then exerted some force by firing rubber pellets into crowds (This imagery at Kent is chilling). The students responded by starting some fires.
Although this type of behavior is not acceptable anywhere, Kent State is a unique place because of the 1970 shootings. Those events still play a pivotal role in the image and life of the university. The shootings define Kent, Ohio in much the same way that Dallas is linked to President Kennedy's assassination and Memphis is remembered for the murder of Dr. King. Students that weren't even born yet know the history of the shootings and the university and law enforcement haven't forgotten either.
I learned very early on during my time at Kent that you needed to hold your opinions about the May 4th shootings to yourself. You never knew when you would be talking to a student whose mom was in the crowd of students or whose dad was in the National Guard on that fateful day. I hope that both current students and present law enforcement would learn from their history in order to prevent another senseless tragedy from happening in that quaint northeastern Ohio town that I love.