‘Armed With Our Voices’ May 4 Poetry Exhibit Opens at Kent State Student Center

A new interactive exhibit from the Wick Poetry Center that encourages visitors to explore the history of student protest through the Kent State shootings, has opened in the Kent Student Center as part of May 4 commemoration activities.

The exhibit, Armed With Our Voices, seeks to show the grave consequences that result when communication collapses. The exhibit uses present-day issues of political polarization, divided communities and school violence to explore the themes of peace and conflict.  

The goal of the exhibit is to connect the current generation to the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State University, so that they can learn what happened and why it matters, said David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center.

“The whole idea was to relate the legacy of May 4 to social justice and ongoing struggles today,” Hassler said.

The exhibit – there are two identical models – debuted two years ago at the National Council of Social Studies Conference in Austin, Texas, Hassler said. From there, the exhibits were scheduled to be on display at the Cathedral of St. John Divine in New York City, the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus and other locales before debuting at Kent State for the 50th commemoration of the May 4 shootings in 2020.

After the initial showing in Texas, however, the pandemic intervened and further displays of the exhibit were put on hold until now, he said.

Hassler said the initial reaction to the exhibit at the Austin conference was overwhelmingly positive and he is hoping that pandemic conditions will permit the exhibit to begin traveling again.

Smaller pop-up versions of the exhibit will be installed at Kent State’s Stark and Geauga campuses and the Twinsburg Academic Center in the coming weeks, he said.

Hassler said the entire Wick center staff worked on the project, along with the May 4 Visitor’s Center staff, and Stephanie Smith, associate professor in the College of Communication and Information’s School of Media and Journalism.

All the May 4 information was curated in a way to make the historical event relevant to our present moment in time, including new information added to reflect the ongoing war in the Ukraine, Hassler explained.

The exhibit features articles, photographs and video screens for a digital “listening wall,” on which visitors can listen to the commentary of others, hear oral histories and view archival videos.

The listening wall then prompts each visitor to produce a creative writing response using words they reflected upon from the listening wall, to consider the issues of equality, justice and human rights from past and present and how they are deeply connected.

A student uses Wick Poetry Center interactive exhibit for May 4, "Armed With Our Voices."
The creative writing is then archived into a repository of creative writing and poetry on the exhibit’s website. Hassler said numerous writing submissions already had been made in just a few days since the exhibit opened in the student center.

The exhibit’s content also is adaptable to reflect issues pertinent to the cities where it visits.

Getting visitors to engage with the listening wall and produce a creative writing response can be challenging.

“It’s a tricky thing to get people to know it’s something they can do,” Hassler said.

During May 4 events, Hassler said the Wick center is hoping to station its interns as student ambassadors at the exhibit to encourage others to participate and show them how the exhibit works.

The exhibit was made possible by a $90,000 grant from the Knight Foundation in 2019, as well as contributions from Michael Solomon, former Kent State national trustee and longtime supporter of May 4 efforts.

In addition, the exhibit’s accompanying website offers different lesson plans for educators to access and use as teaching tools in their classrooms.

The exhibit will remain in the student center through the end of the semester, or longer, Hassler said.

To learn more about the events marking this year’s commemoration, visit https://www.kent.edu/may-4-1970/commemoration.

POSTED: Thursday, April 21, 2022 02:44 PM
UPDATED: Tuesday, April 16, 2024 01:36 AM
Lisa Abraham