School of Peace and Conflict Studies Is Living Memorial to May 4
Kent State University’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies was created as a living memorial to the four students killed on May 4, 1970.
As the university prepares to mark the 53rd anniversary of the shootings, the school’s director says honoring the legacy of May 4 is still key to the school’s identity and mission.
“The origin story is essential to our identity and to our work and what constitutes our mission,” said R. Neil Cooper, Ph.D., director of the school.
The school traces its roots to the aftermath of the May 4, 1970, shootings when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on students protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War, killing four students and wounding nine others.
Following the shootings, a university-wide commission charged with formulating Kent State’s long-range institutional response recommended the university create a center for research and teaching to promote peaceful social and political change, to serve as a living memorial to May 4, 1970.
The Center for Peaceful Change was established in 1971 and was later renamed the Center for Applied Conflict Management in 1994, becoming part of the Department of Political Science. In August 2017, the center transformed into the School of Peace and Conflict Studies within the College of Arts and Sciences.
The school’s work, Cooper said, has direct links to May 4, but also connects to the spirit of May 4 through its coursework on non-violent protest and conflict management, and through the peace programming the school sponsors.
As a direct link, the school’s faculty conducts research on May 4, including Assistant Professor Johanna Solomon, Ph.D., who edited “Four Dead in Ohio: The Global Legacy of Youth Activism and State Repression,” and Assistant Professor Sara Koopman, Ph.D., who created the May 4 mapping project web app in 2020, along with Jennifer Mapes, Ph.D., associate professor of geography.
Koopman and Mapes have worked on how to use the map as a teaching tool as well, Cooper said.
The school also offers a course, “May 4 and Its Aftermath,” each spring semester, introducing a new generation of students each year to the history and significance of May 4, he said.
Since 2020, the school has offered four May 4th Legacy Scholarships for Peace and Conflict Studies majors. Each scholarship bears the name of one of the students killed on May 4 – Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder – to serve as a lasting testament to their lives and presence at Kent State.
As a school, Cooper said, Peace and Conflict Studies is also involved with May 4 committees and efforts throughout the university.
“We try to deliver on that mission, of being a living memorial, with a commitment to service across the university on and around questions of May 4,” Cooper said.
The original center's undergraduate degree program in peace and conflict studies was established in 1973, making it one of the oldest in the country, and one of the largest, regularly enrolling more than 1,000 in its courses each academic year.
The program will celebrate its 50th anniversary this fall, Cooper noted. The fall semester will see the introduction of a new minor in Environment, Peace and Justice, as well as, for the first time, a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, which was approved by Kent State’s Board of Trustees in December 2022 – which show the program’s growth and expansion. Plans are also in the works to launch a new graduate certificate in “Leading Through Challenge” with the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
As part of its curriculum, the school’s teaching goes beyond traditional political protest but also delves into interpersonal and workplace conflict, and how to manage these conflicts to avoid escalation, Cooper said.
Outside the classroom, the school strives to be an agent for positive social change and interaction through the programming it offers.
“Part of the way in which we try to deliver on the mission is through doing practical peace work,” he said.
In July, the school will be a major sponsor of “Peace Education in an Era of Crisis,” an international conference, in Kigali, Rwanda, in conjunction with Kent State’s Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education and the University of Rwanda.
In addition to Kent State faculty who will be presenting on diverse topics at the conference, Sarah Schmidt, assistant director of Global Education at Kent State Stark, will be teaching her course “Rwanda After Genocide” in Kigali at the time. This course is part of Kent State's Kigali Summer Institute to be launched this year. Schmidt will be attending the peace education conference along with about a dozen students taking her course. Students from an earlier Peace and Conflict school study trip to Colombia will also be presenting at the conference.
Cooper is most pleased that a group of educators from Northeast Ohio will be attending the conference, which will feature international experts on how to best deliver peace education.
Other efforts from the past year included the Community Dialogue Workshop, a three-day event held in February to teach attendees the art of civil dialogue – learning to have difficult conversations to bring people together, for which Solomon was the principal organizer. The event was held in collaboration with Hands Across the Hills, the Growing Democracy Project and Kent State’s Department of Political Science.
In December 2022, the school sponsored “Sports, Politics, Peace and Development,” a series of online seminars developed to overlap with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, to look at how world politics were playing out against the backdrop of the 2022 World Cup soccer competition. The online seminars were co-sponsored by Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism and the Read Center, along with the Department of Peace Studies and International Development at the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England.
This type of training, dialogue and education about the dynamics of peace and conflict at local, national and international levels, is an important part of fulfilling the mission of May 4, Cooper said.