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Making Meaning of May 4 with Dr. Laura Davis

POSTED: Jul. 28, 2021

On July 6, 2021, an NPR newscaster asked Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava why she had so often publicly praised journalists for their stories about those who had been lost or not yet found in the collapse of Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Florida. “What happened was so horrific, so unexpected, and could have been prevented,” the mayor said. “We have to pay homage to those lives.”

Dr. Laura Davis speaking at the May 4 Visitors Center
While the Tower collapse was different from that of the shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, which left four Kent State students dead and nine others wounded, both events left communities shocked and mourning. Like Mayor Levine Cava and her community, we, too, have a human responsibility of paying homage to four lives lost on May 4, 1970. In fact, remembrance remains the sole form of justice realized for Kent State’s fallen—Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, Sandy Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder. Despite a ten-year legal aftermath that featured a favorable and landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, justice was not found through the courts.

As citizens, we carry a second kind of responsibility, a social responsibility to educate citizens about May 4, so that they understand its place in the course of American history and how this story can clarify the world we live in today.

That work is addressed in a unique and substantial way this summer at Kent State in a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks workshop. Titled Making Meaning of May 4th: The 1970 Kent State Shootings in US history, the grant program together with Kent State supports the participation of 72 middle and high school educators from throughout the United States in an intense six-day seminar. During the workshop, educators develop a unit plan for teaching their students about the May 4 history and its connection to today.

Serving as co-directors are myself, professor emeritus of English and founding director (ret.) of the university’s May 4 Visitors Center museum, and Dr. Todd Hawley, professor of teacher education in social studies. Workshop presenters feature a range of experts and scholars, seven of whom were present during the May 4 shootings—four surviving student casualties, two student witnesses, and a member of the Ohio National Guard.

Making Meaning of May 4th received high praise from its first cohort of June participants, as their comments will tell you:

  • “I will take the baton that has been passed to me and ensure that my students learn and continue to ask questions about not just the shootings at Kent State, but all of history.”
  • “It will have a profound impact on my teaching and scholarship, as it made me passionate about teaching again, and I want my students to feel that excitement in the air and hear it in my voice.”
  • “I love when I leave a workshop wanting to be a better teacher and even more a better human being.”
  • “This week has been life-changing for me. Hearing the personal stories of those who were there on May 4, 1970, was both thought-provoking and heart-wrenching. This has been the best teacher workshop and professional development I have attended during my teaching career.”
  • “I am forever grateful. I will never forget this amazing experience.”

As organizers and presenters, we could feel the energy, commitment, and deep engagement of the educators from the time we received their applications, through their participation, and in the projects they developed during the workshop.

Dr. Laura Davis attending the Making Meaning of May 4 Workshop
The range of topics were wide and well-developed: student activism past and present; the First Amendment; human rights abuses: Cambodia, My Lai and Kent State; the role youth play in addressing societal problems; using diverse perspectives to better understand a historical event and to hear each other’s stories; the costs and benefits of challenging the status quo; why did the Vietnam War create such a deep divide?; what role did rhetoric play in the events of May 4?; who and what is a domestic enemy?; understanding the power, damage, and implications of media messaging; whose truths endure?; how would you have responded to the war?

Dazzled by America’s teachers, we are thankful that they will widen the circle of making meaning of May 4 by sharing with students and colleagues.

Written by Dr. Laura Davis, Emeritus Professor in English, and co-founder of the May 4 Walking Tour and May 4 Visitors Center. Dr. Davis was a freshman when she witnessed the shootings on May 4, 1970.

Learn more about May 4, 1970