Kent State’s May 4 Visitors Center to Host Discussions on "Cambodia After Kent State"
Survivors of Cambodian genocide during Khmer Rouge regime to speak
Kent State University's May 4 Visitors Center kicks off the 46th annual May 4 Commemoration by hosting a series of events on state violence with the theme “Cambodia After Kent State,” with a focus on the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime. These programs, held on April 26, 27 and 28 on the Kent Campus, are free and open to the public. The series is generously supported by Kent State's College of Arts and Sciences.
Following five years of civil war in Cambodia, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, also known as the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot, massacred two million Cambodians while ruling the country from 1975 to 1979. An estimated 25 percent of the total population died after forced relocation, torture, mass execution, malnutrition and disease.
On April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Kent Student Center Kiva, Chum Mey, a survivor of the infamous S-21 Security Center in Phnom Penh, will relate his story of imprisonment, survival and forgiveness. Throughout its existence, S-21 detained and tortured more than 12,000 men, women and children. His life will provide the focal point for a broader discussion on state violence with Kent State students from across the globe. A reception hosted by Kent State’s Office of Global Education will follow.
On April 27 at 7 p.m. in the University Auditorium at Cartwright Hall, Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father, will provide a powerful address on her childhood experience under the Khmer Rouge. More broadly, Ung will discuss the reality of girls’ education in contemporary Cambodia. Joining Ung is Jamie Ameilo, founder and CEO of Caring for Cambodia, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the educational system of Cambodia through the creation of more than 20 model schools.
On April 28 at 7 p.m. in Schwartz Center, Room 177, LinDa Saphan, genocide survivor and director John Pirozzi will host a screening of their award winning film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. Their film examines popular music from the pre-Khmer Rouge era and explores the impact of music in the struggle for political, ideological and social change. It depicts the musical and political history of Cambodia from the 1950s to the mid-1970s.
“When students come to the May 4 Visitors Center, we often ask them, ‘What was the trigger that led to the series of protests that would lead to May 4, 1970?’” says Mindy Farmer, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s May 4 Visitors Center. “We almost always get the answer ‘the Vietnam War,’ and that’s true, mostly, but it is not as exact as it could be. The exact thing that triggered the May 4, 1970, shootings was President Nixon’s April 30 announcement of the Cambodia Incursion, which sparked outrage and led to 132 campus protests across the nation. So, this year, we are exploring that Cambodia and Kent State link. There is no better place in the world to explore that intersection than right here at Kent State.”
Farmer says that she and her staff at the May 4 Visitors Center feel privileged to partner with several other departments on campus and community organizations to plan the event series. Two of the co-organizers of the series are James Tyner, Ph.D., professor of geography at Kent State, and his graduate student Savina Sirik. For the past 15 years, Tyner has been conducting research on the economic practices and irrigation schemes of the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide. Sirik, who lost one of her brothers during the regime, was recruited by Tyner and has contributed firsthand research to the documentation and empirical interpretation of the genocide.
“I hope that our audiences will take away a greater understanding of the human cost of political decisions,” Tyner says. “It is very easy to say ‘we want to go to war; we want to invade a country; we want to bomb a country,' but there is going to be a human cost to that. That human cost extends beyond the immediacy of the bombing. It continues on for decades and generations after."
This series is produced in collaboration with Kent State’s Office of the Provost, Office of Global Education, Department of History, Department of Geography, the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence, as well as Women 4 Women Ohio.
Rock and Roll album cover photo credit: DTIF Archives