University, May 4 Task Force come to an impasse for 50th commemoration


The victory bell sitting at the bottom of Blanket Hill. 

Jarett Theberge

Listen to “University, May 4 Task Force at crossroads” on Spreaker.

As the 50th anniversary of the May 4 tragedy at Kent State approaches, plans for commemoration are underway for the milestone. The university recently passed a resolution to take responsibility for the commemoration, leaving the May 4 Task Force, a student group that has planned commemorations since 1975, with an unclear future.  

The victory bell at the trough of Blanket Hill serves as a remembrance for the tragedies of May 4, 1970. For over 40 years, the May 4 Task Force has been the sole organization on campus responsible setting up the annual commemoration for the events of that day and those who died. But a recent resolution passed by the Kent State administration puts the responsibility in their hands and away from the Task Force.

Madeline Camp, the president of the May 4 Task Force, has been at the center of the recent changes in commemoration planning maintaining the current plans of the student group, while communicating with the administration as they move in to plan for the 50th anniversary. She said the Task Force has been overlooked in some cases by the university.

“We have not properly had a seat at the table in this process. It’s kind of like, ‘We appreciate what you’ve done but now we are taking over,” Camp said. 

For Camp, the Task Force is a way for students to discuss issues of free speech happening in the world in relation to an event that happened on their campus almost 50 years ago. Camp said May 4th is something that lives on.

“I think it’s part of the living memory of May 4 don’t think it’s a stagnant event I think it changes with the times and I think the Task Force is kind of the activist arm of that,” Camp said. “Not only has the Task Force fought using activism to carry on the memory of the students, and the memory of May 4 but has stood up for social justice issues depending on that time.”

But those in the Task Force aren’t the only students on campus who still feel strongly about May 4. Jacob Dudley, a junior peace and conflict studies major, is taking the May 4 and its Aftermath class, which covers an in-depth history and perspectives of the events. Dudley is an example of students who feel May 4 still has lesson to offer. 

“I think students still care because it shows that if we want to take action if we want something to change no one will give it to us,” Dudley said. “In fact, May 4 shows we will be actively fought against and in some cases even killed.”

Overall, Dudley does feel that the university’s resolution to take responsibility for the commemoration is a good thing. With the responsibility of planning and organizing an event under a tight budget being lifted from the Task Force, Dudley said he feel this will mean the student group can focus on activism efforts all year-round.   

“I think it’s important to note that here’s a legacy here at Kent State; a legacy of protest, activism and of tragedy, and I think that’s something important that all Kent State students should know, Dudley said. “We have this legacy we should honoring it and using it to our advantage. Especially next being the 50th anniversary the world’s eye will be trained on Kent State”

For the forebears of this legacy, those who engaged in activism efforts around Blanket Hill back in the 1970s, the news of the resolution came with conflicting feelings. Kent resident Michael Pacifico, a student back in the 1970s who ended up being part of the 1977 Tent City protest and has worked with the Task Force for over 30 years, said he thinks the university taking over commemorations overall is in fact a good thing.

“I have mixed feelings because there were years that without a Task Force there would have been no mention of the murders on campus,” Pacifico said. “But things have changed things have evolved over the past 45 years to where I think that is it for the best.”

Even with the university assuming responsibility for the commemoration, Pacifico said he thinks the Task Force should still exist to be a check on the university. If they don’t like what the University has planned, he said they should still be able to put on their own alternative programming. 

“The reason why the Task Force took over the commemorations and the remembrance process around May 4, 1970 was because the university was not doing its due diligence. The whole idea was we wanted the university to take responsibility. We wanted them to build a memorial,” Pacifico said. “We couldn’t build a memorial the university had to. The university set up the visitor’s center we couldn’t do that. So our job wasn’t only putting on a commemoration and educating the students but making sure the university would officially take part of that process. One other thing is that the Task Force has been a victim of its own success. In a sense, every time they had a success, they were sort of making themselves less relevant so it’s been hard. One thing Rod Flauhaus, program director for the 50th has mentioned is that there really is nothing to advocate. In a sense, we won. What do you do when you win a war?” 

Project manager for the 50th anniversary Rod Flauhaus plans to release more information for the commemorations this upcoming fall.

So while the feeling that commemorations are now in good hands and the Task Force’s accomplishment of one of its major goals realized, the battle has been won but the war is far from over. Even still, ringing the victory bell for old times’ sake wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Jarett Theberge is a Kent State journalism student. Contact him at [email protected].