Rights, Free Speech and Protest at Kent State

Panel discussion will review student rights and responsibilities during protests

Kent State University’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies and School of Communication Studies has organized a panel discussion to talk about free speech and protest on campus to educate students about their rights and responsibilities.

The event, "Rights, Free Speech, and Protest at Kent State" will take place at 4 p.m. on Monday, April 15, in the Reflections Gallery of the May 4 Visitors Center, 141 Taylor Hall.

The panel was organized for two reasons. First, the subject of free speech takes on increased relevance on the Kent Campus each spring as the May 4 commemoration nears.  

Neil Cooper, Ph.D., inaugural director of Kent State University's School of Peace and Conflict Studies, discusses the school's role.
Neil Cooper

Neil Cooper, director of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, said the event is well timed as the university gets closer to the anniversary of May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students and injured nine others during a protest of the escalation of the War in Vietnam. 

“The deeper historical context for this panel is that this is yet another moment which brings us back to May 4,” Cooper said, noting that questions on the rights and limits of speech and protest were not only central to the events of May 4, but also to subsequent debates about its meaning.

The second reason for the panel, Cooper said, is that the perennial issues of free speech and protest raised by May 4, are particularly salient now, given the divisions that have played out on campuses across the country on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues.

“I think campuses across the U.S. at the moment are grappling with questions around protest and the navigation of free speech rights,” Cooper said. “On one hand there are concerns about ensuring that free speech and the right to protest is protected, on the other hand, there is a concern about preventing hate speech or actions that are problematic in some way.”

“These questions of free speech and what is allowed and what is not permitted and what represents an appropriate response either from university authorities or from the state and federal authorities – these were all very live questions back in 1970 and they are very live questions now,” Cooper said.

Organizers, he said, felt that this was a good opportunity to have a panel discussion on the matter to provide a forum for students to ask questions and engage with panelists who offer expertise in the areas.  

“These are quite substantive issues and sometimes there are no easy answers,” Cooper said.

Panelists are:  

Ashley Nickels, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Peace & Conflict Studies 
Paul Haradakis, Ph.D., director of the School of Communication Studies 
Ben Davis, Ed.D., director of the Kent Student Center and the Center for Student Involvement 
Chris Jenkins, assistant director of Public Safety and assistant chief of Kent State Police 
Molly Merryman, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, will serve as a moderator.

Panel members will take on the issues of free speech rights, laws, values and responsibilities when it comes to campus events.

The event is free and open to all students.

POSTED: Monday, April 15, 2024 11:01 AM
Updated: Monday, April 15, 2024 05:03 PM
Lisa Abraham