Making the Connection: Discussion Explores Parallels Between Kent State Shootings and Gwangju Uprising

Faculty from Chonnam National University in South Korea experience May 4 Commemoration

A professor from Chonnam National University in Gwangju, South Korea, said his recent visit to Kent State University enabled him to experience his research into the May 4, 1970, Kent State shootings in a whole new way.

“In my May 4 research, I have been learning through text,” said Euihuack Kang, Ph.D, associate professor and chair of the Department of English Language and Literature at Chonnam. “This has been a totally different experience.”

Faculty from Chonnam National University in Gwangju, South Korea, give a presentation as part of the May 4, 54th Commemoration.
Roseann 'Chic' Canfora, Ph.D., chair of the May 4 Commemoration Committee, far right, takes part in the discussion.

Kang said he was impressed by the whole series of May 4 Commemoration events, how well-organized they were and how well-attended by students, faculty, staff and members of the public.

What made the trip so impressive, Kang said, was being able to walk the Kent Campus, visit the location where the shootings took place, and take in the symbolism of the many memorials and markers dotting the landscape, marking the spots where students died or were wounded on May 4, 1970.

Kang was one of four faculty members from Chonnam who traveled to Kent State to participate in the 54th Commemoration of May 4. Soon, four faculty members from Kent State will be heading to Chonnam, to experience the 44th anniversary of the May 18, 1980, Gwangju Uprising, as part of a cultural exchange to explore the connections between the historic events.

Yoenmin Kim, a literature professor, who earned his doctorate from Kent State in 2013, and who spent the 2022-23 academic year as a visiting professor here, developed the idea of the cultural exchange based on the two universities’ campus tragedies to further the understanding and legacies of May 4, 1970, at Kent State and May 18, 1980, at Chonnam.

Kang and Kim were part of the Chonnam delegation along with Misun Park, assistant professor in the Humanities Institute; and Woori Han, assistant professor of English Literature.

On May 3, Kang and Kim took part in a panel discussion with Kent State faculty, as part of the May 4 Commemoration programming.

Chonnam National University faculty members take part in a panel discussion as part of May 4 Commemoration activities.
Kent State Professor of English Tammy Clewell, Ph.D., left, facilitates the discussion, with Chonnam professors Yeonmin Kim, Ph.D., center, and Euihuack Kang, Ph.D., right.


Kang’s presentation focused on historic controversies over the May 18 uprising, while Kim talked about cultural representations of the uprising and memory. The pair drew on themes that connected to May 4 discussions.

At Kent State, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the escalation of the War in Vietnam on May 4, 1970, 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 Chonnam National University students raised their voices to protest the military dictatorship ruling South Korea. Demonstrators were fired upon, killed and tortured by the military government during the 10-day uprising. Many from the community joined the student protests, which had an official death toll of about 250, but unofficial estimates are 2,000 or more killed. It would be another 13 years before South Korea became a fully democratic government in 1993.

Kang, just 11 at the time of the Gwangju Uprising, said the event left an indelible mark on him and his family.

Kim’s presentation ended with the four Chonnam faculty members singing a protest song connected to the Gwangju Uprising.

Chonnam National University faculty members sing a protest song from the 1980 Gwangju Uprising.
The visiting delegation from Chonnam National University in South Korea sang a protest song associated with the May 18, 1980, Gwangju Uprising.

“It was the equivalent perhaps of the song ‘Ohio’ about May 4,” said R. Neil Cooper, director of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies and chair of the May 4 Education Committee. “This was a particularly powerful moment, and the audience was clearly moved.”

“Our Chonnam colleagues gave powerful presentations that not only set out the history of the Gwangju Uprising but explored how that history has been documented and how it has been subject to different interpretations,” Cooper said.

They also discussed the impact on the community and succeeding generations, different claims to the memory of the event, and different modes of memorialization and their material and emotional effects, he said.

“The Chonnam participants highlighted the many parallels (and differences) with the history, impact, memory and memorialization of May 4. The panelists also explored the connections with the current protests at U.S. universities,” Cooper said.

Professor Yeonmin Kim gives a presentation on the May 18 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea.
Yeonmin Kim, Ph.D., gives a presentation on the May 18, 1980, Gwangju Uprising in South Korea.

The Chonnam visitors also discussed the potential for future collaboration on research, teaching and faculty exchanges, particularly with the English Department and the School of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Also taking part in the panel discussion were, from Kent State, Sara Koopman, Ph.D., assistant professor in Peace and Conflict Studies, and Tammy Clewell, Ph.D., professor of English; and Kenneth Hammond, Ph.D., professor of East Asian and Global History at New Mexico State University, who was a student protester at Kent State on May 4, 1970.

The four Kent State faculty members who soon will travel to Chonnam for the anniversary are, Koopman, Landon Hancock, Ph.D., professor in the Peace and Conflict Studies school and an expert on the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising; Jennifer Mapes, Ph.D., associate professor of geography; and Karl Martin, Ph.D., adjunct faculty in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies.  

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 particular places in Kent from May 1-5, 1970. The app is designed to serve as a digital memorial to remember and honor the events. Martin 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.

Kim, Hancock and Cooper worked with President Todd Diacon's office to organize the exchange, under the auspices of the May 4 Education Committee, with funding from the President's Office, the School of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education.



POSTED: Monday, May 6, 2024 03:43 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2024 11:45 AM
Lisa Abraham
Rami Daud