New Kent State Exhibit Rekindles Memories Of Campus Shootings
Kent Stateâs more than $1 million memorial for students shot and killed a generation ago opened Monday after a weekend preview of the permanent multimedia exhibit that both honors, and tries to make sense of, a cultural watershed. Dennis Gunther graduated from Kent State University three years before Ohio National guardsmen open fired on protestors, killing four and wounding nine others. But he was living in town when Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder died, and he lives with that legacy. âI canât go anywhere without saying I graduated from Kent State. And the first thing they want to talk about is the shootings," Gunther says. Today Gunther lives in Toledo. He came back for this weekendâs Kent State homecoming, and to reflect at the new May 4 Visitorsâ Center. He feels some empathy for the guardsmen and the students protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War with the invasion of Cambodia. âI think the guys that did this, didnât want to do what happened. But it was just a very unfortunate thing and I donât really know that you could say whoâs to blame.â? His former classmate, Dick Hoyne, lived in Stow at the time and didnât know what to think. âBack then you joined the National Guard to get out of the service. They had no training, whatsoever. They were young and stressed out," Hoyne says. Taylor Hall is next to the field where the guardsmen fired. Its exhibit features three parts: social context, the shootings themselves, and reaction. The social context section includes three period TV sets running a loop of pop culture and news footage: everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Smothers Brothers to Kate Smithâs âGod Bless America.â? On the walls are magazines, album covers and photographs that tell the stories of the Cold War, music and sports of the 1960s. Thomas Grace is a history professor in Buffalo, but in 1970 he was one of the nine students wounded. Heâs writing a book about the roots of Kentâs student political organizations throughout the 1960s. âItâs often felt that the only place where these kind of activities were occurring was on the campuses that had more academic prestige than Kent. But that was not the case. Kent can seem to be home, in retrospect, to the long 60s every bit as much as a place like Berkeley or Columbia, even if it never achieved that level of notoriety, " Grace says. Grace says civil rights protests in the City of Kent by students starting in 1960 planted the seed that blossomed into campus anti-war protests by the end of the decade. Two of his close friends, Jimmy Riggs and Marcella Hartzler, came to the preview from Wooster. âWe were here that day. We were running from the shots," Hartzler says. âWe were here through all four days of demonstrations. The whole country was divided. There was a lot of polarization and alienation and the big generation gap," Riggs says. Hartzler says âI felt like I didnât do anything wrong.â? Riggs says âWe felt patriotic.â? âWe as students did not do anything wrong," Hartzler adds. "And if students today wouldnât rise for such an occasion, Iâd be shocked.â? The students in 1970 were protesting a war. Hilary Crisan, a journalism major who toured the Visitorsâ Center with her father, hopes her fellow students might apply that spirit today. âI feel like a lot of people that Iâve spoken to, at least, feel very differently about our government than whatâs going on. But theyâre not being vocal about it. So I think that they need to start being vocal, and I hope that this inspires them, and Iâm glad that this is up," Crisan says. The second gallery is mostly a billboard-sized video screen running a documentary about the 13 seconds that helped change public consciousness of the war. Itâs a somber room, which gives way to a corridor filled with the aftermath of the event. English professor Judy Davis is director of the Visitors Center and says the third gallery will continue to grow. âPeople can actually become part of writing the history of May 4 by stopping at one of two response stations and answering one of several questions about May 4," Davis says. "And their words will be displayed on a monitor for people to read over the ages. So thatâs really a part of the recording of the history of May 4 and the impact that itâs had.â? Alan Canfora was shot in the wrist on May 4, 1970, and has remained a critic of what happened that day, and the investigations that followed. As with most of the people who were there then and returned over the weekend, he says the galleries serve an important purpose well. âI think the purpose of a visitorâs center is to create a historical context so people can understand what happened; the basic facts. So I think if any member of the public came through here, it would be a very emotional and educational experience.â? After the shootings, President Nixon appointed a commission that said some protests leading up to the shootings â including the burning of the ROTC buildingâwere criminal and dangerous. But it also called the training, weapons and actions of the National Guard â quote â âunnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.â?