Does Kent State shooting resonate with students today?

Melissa Griffy Seeton

Kent State University students pass by little reminders every spring: The 58,175 daffodils blanketing the hill near where four students were shot 40 years ago.

And some bigger reminders: The sculpture outside Taylor Hall scarred from a bullet that was fired by National Guardsmen on May 4, 1970.

Still, some students today feel a disconnect.

“I think there are a lot of students who just fall into a routine. They forget something major happened here,” said Christina Rodriques of Plain Township, Ohio, a Kent senior.

That “major” thing happened on May 4, 1970, when a student protest against the Vietnam War and the presence of the Ohio National Guard on the campus ended in tragedy when guardsmen shot and killed four and wounded nine Kent State students.

An honors student who’ll graduate next week with bachelor’s degrees in history and art history, Rodriques has written papers on the shootings and draws her own hypotheses.

“I think, in the ’70s, students were a lot more aware of what was happening in the world,” the 23-year-old said. “Today, students just think that they don’t have a say, so they don’t care, or they’ve stopped caring.”

Kent senior Andrew Passwaters of Canton, Ohio, is one student who takes the time to reflect.

“We have a similar situation with our troops today,” said Passwaters, 24. “It’s just weird to think about now and then, and how it has changed a lot, but some things are nearly the same.”

Passwaters believes today’s students take certain rights, such as the right to free speech, for granted.

“Somewhat selfishly, we think, ‘I already have these rights and freedoms,’ ” he said. “Students aren’t quite in tune with it or can’t relate to students’ actions back then.”

Carole Barbato, a Kent State University communication studies professor, was a student “back then.”

In the 1960s and early 1970s, demonstrations were about attracting attention, she said. The more dramatic the protest — everything from burning draft cards to burying the U.S. Constitution — the more attention it garnered.

But Barbato believes the era is “idealized. People think everyone was an activist, but no more than today.”

“Students today reach out in different ways,” Barbato said. “My students are very concerned about things. I just think they go about it different ways. Instead of taking it to the streets, they take it to the Internet.”

Barbato, a student at Kent during the May 4 shootings, teaches a May 4 course and co-led the creation of an audio-guided walking tour of the May 4 historic site that will be dedicated during the 40th anniversary. She is one of the four co-authors of the application to add the May 4 site to the National Register of Historic Places, which was approved in February.

Barbato had planned to attend the student protest May 4, 1970, but one of her professors pleaded with her not to go. “I never listened to older adults, but that day I did,” she said.

Barbato was friends with Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, two of the four students who were killed.

“We want students today to know the facts that we know, we want them to remember,” Barbato said. “But there are greater lessons here, and that is that the rhetoric that incites violence is never the answer.”

The Repository