Forging a Connection Between May 4, 1970, and May 18, 1980

May 4 Commemoration begins an exchange of faculty between Kent State and Chonnam National University in South Korea

A year ago, Yeonmin Kim, Ph.D., ’13, a literature professor from Chonnam National University in Gwangju, South Korea, was concluding his time as a visiting professor at Kent State University with one goal in mind: Create an exchange program between the two institutions based on their historic campus tragedies.

South Korean Professor Yeonmin Kim, Ph.D., '13, spent the 2022-23 academic year at Kent State as a visiting scholar.
Yeonmin Kim

Kim believed an exchange of faculty and students between the two universities would further the understanding and legacies of May 4, 1970, at Kent State and May 18, 1980, at Chonnam.

Less than a year later, that exchange is becoming a reality.

Kim and three professors from Chonnam will be on the Kent Campus to take part in the 54th commemoration of May 4, 1970, and soon after four Kent State faculty members will be traveling to South Korea for the 44th anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the United States’ escalating involvement in the Vietnam War, killing four and wounding nine others, and directly changing the course of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

The May 18, 1980, the Gwangju Uprising began when a group of Chonnam National University students raised their voices to protest the military dictatorship ruling South Korea at the time. Demonstrators were fired upon, killed and tortured by the military government during the 10-day uprising.

The May 18, 1980 Memorial in Gwangju, South Korea.
The May 18, 1980 Memorial in Gwangju, South Korea.


Many from the community joined the student protests, which had an official death toll of about 250, however unofficial estimates indicated that 2,000 or more were killed. It would be another 13 years before South Korea became a fully democratic government in 1993.

As May 4 is commemorated at Kent State, May 18 is a National Day of Commemoration in South Korea.

Kim worked with faculty and staff from the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, the Office of Global Education and the May 4 Visitors Center to lay the groundwork for the cultural exchange program for the respective May anniversaries.

Dr. Neil Cooper
R. Neil Cooper
Landon Hancock, Ph.D.
Landon Hancock

Landon Hancock, Ph.D., professor in Peace and Conflict Studies, is an expert on the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising and is one of the four Kent State professors going to South Korea. Hancock also worked with Kim to help organize the exchange.

“Landon was the key person originally advocating for it from our end,” said R. Neil Cooper, director of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies and chair of the May 4 Education Committee.

When the exchange idea was proposed to President Todd Diacon’s office, it was enthusiastically accepted, Cooper said.

“It’s really exciting. I think it speaks to how May 4 has the potential to constantly produce new ways of understanding it, new resonances, and new linkages that you don’t really think about,” Cooper said. “And just when you begin to think that there’s nothing new about May 4, there is always a new dimension, a new resonance, a new connection that you find – a new way in which you can bring it back to what’s happening today – in this case, in terms of other commemorations around the world, as well as other events in the past.” 

Along with Hancock, Kent State faculty members Sara Koopman, Ph.D., assistant professor in Peace and Conflict Studies; Jennifer Mapes, Ph.D., associate professor of geography; and Karl Martin, Ph.D., adjunct faculty in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies in the College of Education, Health and Human Services, will be making the trip to Chonnam.

Koopman and Mapes are the creators of Mapping May 4, a web app that draws from the oral histories in the May 4 Collection in the Kent State Special Connections & Archives, and maps stories from those histories that describe events at a particular place in Kent from May 1-5, 1970. The app is designed to serve as a digital memorial to remember and honor the events. 

Mapes (left) and Koopman (right)
Jennifer Mapes, left, and Sara Koopman, with their Mapping May 4 project.


Karl Martin, adjunct professor
Karl Martin

Martin, whose trip is being sponsored by Kent State’s Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education is the author of a new book, “Currere and Psychoanalytic Guided Regression - Revisiting the Kent State Shootings,” which revisits the 1970 shootings, using a new approach of currere and psychoanalytic guided regression. The currere method is an approach to education that encourages educators and students to undertake an autobiographical examination of themselves.

Kim studied at Kent State from 2009 to 2013, earning his doctorate in English literature. As a member of the faculty at Chonnam, he came back to Kent State for the 2022-'23 academic year as a visiting professor, editing the English translation of the first volume of oral histories titled “The Gwangju People’s Uprising,” first published in 1990 by Chonnam National University. Kim hopes that translating the survivors’ stories into English will further a greater global understanding of the significance of May 18, 1980.  

Other Chonnam faculty coming to Kent State for the May 4 Commemoration are: Misun Park, assistant professor in the Humanities Institute; Woori Han, assistant professor of English Literature; and Euihuack Kang, associate professor and chair of the Department of English Language and Literature.

Cooper said that he hopes the exchange can continue, and students can be included in the future.

POSTED: Thursday, April 18, 2024 10:15 AM
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2024 11:05 AM
Lisa Abraham