10 Questions With Roseann ‘Chic’ Canfora, Professional-in-Residence, May 4 Survivor
Roseann “Chic” Canfora, Ph.D., is a Professional-in-Residence at Kent State University in the School of Media and Journalism, part of the College of Communication and Information. Prior to teaching at Kent State, Canfora served as the chief communications officer for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and taught high school journalism and speech. Canfora was also a student at Kent State, starting in 1968, and is a survivor of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State. She graduated with her master’s in journalism and public relations and her bachelor’s in English/speech. She is heavily involved in activism as well.
Learn more about Canfora as she answers these 10 questions.
Q. How do you describe your current position as a Professional-in-Residence?
The opportunity to serve Kent State as a Professional-in-Residence enables me to return to the place where I trained for my career and to give back to my students. My experience in the world of public relations and news reporting was very different from what I expected. There were many times that I thought there was nothing in my textbooks from my college experience that prepared me for the real world. So the opportunity to return to Kent State in an official position means I can actually share those experiences as part of the curriculum. I’m no longer a guest speaker, but I’m actually on the staff and bringing that experience directly into the classroom.
Q. How does it feel going from a student here to a professor?
Kent State was the place where I became aware of the world around me. When I was an undergraduate in 1968, I was largely unaware of what was happening, and it was here that I learned to see the world as a much bigger place than my own small sphere. It’s where I learned to see injustice and not only care about it, but to act on my conscience and take a stand on issues. So as a professor now, I just hope every student can find time to be a student of life and to be what I think all college students should be – the conscience of America.
Q. As a student who survived the shootings at Kent State more than 50 years ago, what is the most significant change you’ve witnessed at Kent State?
Kent State has arrived at a place I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The current administration has shown a commitment to continued education and commemoration of May 4, one of the most pivotal events in American history. This shift from previous efforts to distance the university from its legacy gives me and other survivors comfort that when we are gone, the truth will live on.
Q. What do you want to accomplish in working with the Office of the President and the May 4 Presidential Advisory Committee?
May 4 was a defining moment in my life. It remains a galvanizing influence on what I teach and how I teach. It can’t just be something that we do in May every year. It must be something that we do throughout the school year. My generation used our voices and our numbers to stop a war in 1970. The current generation can use their voices and their numbers to effect even greater change. So when we teach about May 4, we teach about injustice, about the world in which we live in and how to make it a more fair, just and good place for all. That should be embedded as part of the curriculum. What happened to us at Kent State should be something that we learn about and care enough about and to act on issues of importance in our lives.
Q. What would you like to develop for May 4 initiatives in the future?
It's my hope that the May 4 Task Force will continue to play a role not only with a seat at the table of the advisory committee, but also in the ongoing education efforts in making sure that, from August through May, we are teaching the lessons of May 4 and how they apply to emerging movements today. I'm hoping that, as a member of the faculty, I can be part of planning for yearlong, campus-wide programming.
Q. What is your advice to student activists?
There is strength in numbers. But many students today don’t have time to be on campus, to engage with other students, to pay attention to what’s going on and to do the research necessary to know what’s true and what’s not. So my strongest advice is always to find that time. You won’t be given that time, but you have to make that time to engage in dialogue about the issues of the day, to check your facts and to check your sources. Decide what is worth knowing and what you care enough to act on, because if you value truth and you care about human rights, your conscience won’t let you ignore social injustice or economic disparity.
Q. What are your hopes for your current students?
My students inspire me. This generation is emerging as a very bright, thoughtful and committed group. I’m hoping that they will register in large numbers to vote because we didn’t have the right to vote when I was their age. I see this new generation of bright, young people who if they focus on the issues that unite them rather than those that divide them, they can make the world better.
Q. What is your favorite part about working at Kent State?
Just being with students. They energize me. My favorite part of my job is seeing the resiliency of faculty and students, especially living through a pandemic. Every day, I have an opportunity to see people finding new and creative ways to function in a world that isn’t optimal.
Q. What is a motto you live by?
Listen to your heart above all other voices. I talk a lot about the shift in philosophy during the transcendental period when Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau challenged Americans to follow their heart and their gut, because within us is always the answer to do what is right.
Q. What is a fun fact about you that not many people know?
I’m a professional musician. I fell in love with the harp in 1972, moved to New York just to learn it and studied for several years without even owning a harp. Now I play weddings just about every weekend. I never planned to play professionally. I just wanted to learn to play. But over the years, I’ve created a business out of something that is one of my greatest sources of joy.