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OPINION: Kyle Rittenhouse’s presence on campus desecrates the memories of those who perished on May 4

Emma Van Winkle
In the Prentice Hall parking lot holds the spots where Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder lost their lives. A vigil has been set in remembrance of them on May 4, 2023.

On the morning of May 4, 1970, my great grandmother, Terri Rattai, went to work in the Kent State administration office like every other day. By that evening, she would have to leave late and be escorted from the premises. The phone lines were down all over the city, and my grandfather had to wait hours to know whether she was alright in the wake of the national tragedy while he was at college in Missouri.

I grew up hearing this story. Any of us who grew up in Kent did. It’s the bloody, hard-fought history of our city — as much a part of it as the Cuyahoga River, or the cobbled-road of Franklin Avenue.

In childhood, Kent natives heard about May 4 every year in school. Some of us have family who protested, nearly all of us have family who remember. We visited the memorials, and our parents took us to the commemorations. 

As those of us who are of Kent know, you cannot separate Kent State from May 4. 

It has become our university’s legacy. 

Every time we walk past Taylor Hall on the way to class, or sled down Blanket Hill in the winter, or park in the Prentice parking lot, we walk on hallowed ground.

On March 13, the Kent State chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) announced they would be welcoming Kyle Rittenhouse to speak in the KIVA on April 16. TPUSA is a nonprofit that works to promote conservative politics in middle schools, high schools and universities all across the country. 

In August 2020, a 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, illegally armed with a loaded AR-15–style rifle. He, along with other counter-protestors, claim to have gone with the goal of protecting businesses. By the end of the night, two unarmed men would be shot dead, and a paramedic would be wounded.

The parallels to what happened on that August night and the fateful events that happened on our own campus are uncanny.

On May 4, 1970, students assembled on Blanket Hill to protest the United States’ invasion of Cambodia in an expansion of the Vietnam War. Two days earlier, the mayor had called in the Ohio National Guard after unrest downtown. That afternoon, they advanced on and tear-gassed students who were legally gathered to protest and gave the order to fire.

Four fell.

Allison Krause. Jeffrey Miller. Sandra Scheuer. William Schroeder.

Fifty-four years later, Kent State students have asked a young man responsible for the deaths of two unarmed protesters to speak on a campus where four unarmed protestors lost their lives.

This is abhorrent.

The announcement sent shockwaves throughout the university community, and understandably, thousands of campus and community members are outraged.

This is a slap in the face of everything Kent State has done to memorialize that day. It desecrates the memories of those who gave their lives for peace and progress.

By allowing Rittenhouse to speak on campus, we dishonor their sacrifice, and dishonor students who call Kent State home today. 

Furthermore, it is disrespectful and dangerous for students of color on campus. Rittenhouse went to Kenosha that night to counterprotest a demonstration protesting a police shooting that paralyzed Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. During his trial, he was seen socializing with members of White Power hate-groups and flashing hand-gestures co-opted by white supremacist groups. 

It is disingenuous for a university that says it values diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging to give someone a platform who has directly harmed a large part of Kent’s community. 

Many are calling on the university to do something. 

Unfortunately, Kent State is a state entity, and as such, it legally cannot ban Kyle Rittenhouse from speaking. This would violate TPUSA’s first amendment right to free speech. The administration’s hands are tied.

So, the duty to act lies with us, the student body. 

And we have already begun: Students have already made a petition urging the university to revoke the charter of TPUSA for hate speech. Plans have already been set to protest the event. 

Every year at the May 4 commemoration, we unfurl a banner emblazoned with the words: “Long Live the Spirit of Kent and Jackson State.” 

What does it say about the “spirit” of our university and the impact we have tried to make, if we sit idly by while a murderer is allowed to speak here?

Roseann “Chic” Canfora, a survivor of the May 4 massacre and sister to Alan Canfora, who was shot that day, teaches at our university. In a class I took with her last year, she said on the first day, “College students are the conscience of America.”

Let us act as that conscience on April 16. 

We have signed petitions and used our social media to lift our voices, but when Rittenhouse comes to speak, let us show up in protest. 

To honor the memories and sacrifice of the four who died on May 4, and to show the university and the community that we are not hypocrites, we need to show up. 

As Kent State students and inheritors of the history of this campus, it is not only our right — but our obligation

Leah Shepard is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

Editor’s note: KentWired hopes to encourage lively debate about today’s issues in our Opinion section. Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily endorsed by KentWired or its editors. Readers are encouraged to participate throughout letters to the editor and guest columns (email them to [email protected]). Submissions become property of The Stater and are subject to editing without notice. 

View Comments (13)
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About the Contributors
Leah Shepard, Team Editor
Leah is a fourth-year student with a double major in Journalism and Spanish. She also works as a staff editor at Kent State's literary magazine, Luna Negra. She is a Kent native and enjoys writing about social justice, history and politics.
Contact her at [email protected]
Emma Van Winkle, Photographer
Emma s a sophomore psychology major with a concentration in counseling careers and a minor in early intervention. She enjoys taking pictures, and her niche is sports – but she recently found a love for nature photography when she worked at a summer camp. Contact her at [email protected]

Comments (13)

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  • D

    DanielMar 25, 2024 at 1:42 pm

    The petition regarding TPUSA’s charter is pointless. The school cannot revoke the charter of an organization for “hate speech.” Hate speech is free speech, not an exception to the First Amendment protections of free speech.

    In Regents of Wisconsin v. Southworth, the Supreme Court established that public universities have to be viewpoint and content neutral when it comes to student groups.

  • 1

    1984Mar 23, 2024 at 11:05 pm

    Money talks even in Courtrooms! Like OJ, Kyle Rittenhouse was able to gain his acquittal via legal manipulations by highest paid legal counsel in the land. In KR’s case, his legal counsel delivered from GOP deep pockets. Jerry Falwell’s zealotry, masked as TPUSA, now brings Kyle Rittenhouse to KSU. Legal? Perhaps temporarily. Always morally reprehensible! Know the difference!

  • S

    SandyMar 22, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    4 students were killed. Please do not say they were protesters, ask for information at the May 4 memorial for accuracy.

  • J

    John GMar 21, 2024 at 7:01 pm

    Tin soldiers and Kyle’s coming, to spread racism and some hate.
    Someday we’ll hear the calling, never again at KENT State.
    White supremacist spreading lies, forgotten about the 4 that died. Forgetting history, will allow it to repeat.
    We can’t forget the, two that he murdered at his feet.


  • T

    TonyTMar 20, 2024 at 9:38 pm

    I feel Kyle should have never been in that situation in the first place. I do support him and yes he fired in self defense other might think different and that’s ok, but I also don’t think he should be a guest speaker at Kent. I don’t really understand what there Is to talk about like what does it change he still killed 2 people and injured one in self defense. If I was him I would have just gone underground after the trial and not started a weird republican tour over. It’s all over just Icky and it doesn’t support the values of Kent State. I think they could of found a better less
    controversial speaker.

  • T

    TGMar 20, 2024 at 6:35 pm

    Inviting KR to speak at Kent state is like asking OJ to address a battered-women convention.

  • C

    Citizen XMar 20, 2024 at 1:17 pm

    Please post an addendum it the Facts: Rittenhouse crossing state lines was legal (he was unarmed while in IL, took possession of the rifle in WI), possession of the rifle was legal, one man chased Kyle down from behind repeatedly yelling the threat he was going to f**king kill him & Kyle shot that man in self defense, one man assaulted Kyle with an overhead skateboard strike to his skull & Kyle shot that man in self defense, one man drew & pointed a gun directly at Kyle and Kyle shot that man in self defense. Kyle Rittenhouse did not break any laws, was acquitted by a jury of all charges.

  • T

    T KingMar 20, 2024 at 10:41 am

    I would like to point out that the Kent State chapter of TPUSA is arguably currently in violation of its Charter; Quote: “The Club shall comprise an odd number of officers with no fewer than three serving at a given time. This will include; President, Secretary, and Treasurer.” The organization’s KSU page only lists a President and one other un-named member.

  • T

    T KingMar 20, 2024 at 10:26 am

    I don’t think Kent State has an obligation to give a platform to someone who _chose_ to commit acts of violence against fellow citizens, regardless of the court decision. The pro-violence student group representing TPUSA should not be allowed on campus.

    • D

      DanMar 25, 2024 at 1:38 pm

      You’re incorrect. They absolutely do, as the article correctly notes, under the First Amendment. You say “regardless of the court decision,” the court decision established the law here.

      And as far as TPUSA, Kent State can’t ban or block a group on campus because of their views, even if I agree their views are “pro-violence.” That issue has *also* been resolved by the Supreme Court.

  • J

    Joyce HMar 20, 2024 at 7:59 am

    Thanks for your words.

  • P

    Paul BrannanMar 19, 2024 at 7:31 pm

    The Kent state shootings are sad history of Kent U and surrounding area of Akron/Summit County Ohio. I will never forget it ever as a young teenager then. TPUSA should lose their charter for hate speech and a slap in the face of the community!!!

    • D

      DanMar 25, 2024 at 1:39 pm

      The college can’t cancel their charter for “hate speech.” Hate speech is free speech.