May 4 Commemoration Gains National Attention

Kent State has important message to share amid campus demonstrations across the country protesting the Israel-Hamas war

Kent State University students, faculty, staff and community members gathered as they have for the past 54 years on the Kent Campus to remember the events surrounding May 4, 1970, when 13 seconds of rifle fire by a contingent of 28 Ohio National Guardsmen left four students dead, one permanently paralyzed, and eight others wounded during a student demonstration against the Vietnam War. This year, against the backdrop of intensifying demonstrations and encampments in protest of the Israel-Hamas War across college campuses nationwide, national and local media have paid special attention to the tenor of events here at Kent State.

According to a report from the Associated Press, more than 2,400 people have been arrested at dozens of colleges and universities across the U.S. during demonstrations protesting the Israel-Hamas war. At Kent State however, campus demonstrations have set the example for a more peaceful and respectful exchange of ideas. 

Kent State President Todd Diacon told the Washington Post that “he won’t judge the actions of other college presidents who in recent days asked outside law enforcement to break up protests on their grounds,” but that was not for Kent State in 2024. Every situation requires its own unique response, he told the Washington Post. 

“We very clearly have a lived lesson, which is polarization and bringing in external armed troops was the exact recipe for the tragedy that happened on our campus,” he said, seeing parallels between what happened 54 years ago and the protests at colleges across the country today. 

Survivors of May 4, 1970, like Dean Kahler, who was paralyzed from being shot that day, doesn’t want to see history repeated either. 

“I question whether college administrators and trustees of colleges have learned any lessons from the ’70s,” Kahler told the Associated Press. “I think they’re being a little heavy handed, a little over the top.” 

Guided by strong values-based leadership and a painful history, Kent State has encouraged students to share their perspectives openly and has provided several forums to encourage open dialogue that is based on the university’s core values of kindness, respect and freedom of speech. 

Protestors at May 4 Commemoration

“Largely driven by our history, we’re always and consistently about a couple of things. One is, we embrace freedom of speech,” Diacon told the Associated Press. “And another thing is, we understand what happens when conversations, attitudes become so polarized that someone that doesn’t agree with you becomes demonized — that that can lead to violence.” 

Prior to and following the May 4 Commemoration, other national and local news outlets including the New York Times, NPR, ABC News and many others such as the Akron Beacon Journal, and local television stations have reported on the much-discussed parallels between 1970 and today on college campuses. 

A May 3 report from NBC News featured footage from May 4, 1970, as well as clips of an interview with Kahler and Joe Cullum, an eyewitness who helped get one of the wounded, John Cleary, to the hospital that day.  

“I am concerned that this will escalate to the point that it did in 1970,” Cullum told NBC in regard to protests turning violent at other universities across the country. “I’m cheered by students taking this action, I just hope they know what they are getting themselves into.” 





Kent State junior and student journalist Adriana Gasiewski, who has been covering the events, told the Associated Press what happened on May 4, 1970, is constantly in the back of her mind.

“Everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s posting about it. My biggest fear is, because of what we know happened with the National Guard (in 1970), is that they bring the National Guard to Columbia and it’s like history repeating itself,” she said. 

Listen to "Legacy: May 4" – a new podcast from Kent State Today.


POSTED: Monday, May 6, 2024 03:33 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 9, 2024 08:46 AM
Amy Antenora