May 4 Task Force reacts to university passing May 4 resolution

Annual May 4 candle light vigil on May 3, 2017.

Madison MacArthur

Editor’s Note: The reporter sent an email to Shay Little, the vice president of Student Affairs, for comment following the meeting. The story will be updated with more information.

Correction: The story initially stated that journalist Dan Rather was once a May 4 commencement speaker. Although he was around for May 4-related events, he did not speak. 

The May 4 Task Force met Thursday in the university library to discuss how to proceed following the Board of Trustee’s meeting Wednesday.

The trustees passed a resolution Wednesday, which stated, “That for the continuity and sustainability of these efforts, the time is right for the university to assume responsibility for the annual May 4 commemoration and ongoing educational events through the Office of the President, beginning with the 50th commemoration in 2019-2020 and continuing from that time forward.”

In previous years, the May 4 Task Force planned the commemorations of May 4.

The first item on the agenda for Thursday’s Task Force meeting included planning a public statement and discussing the future of the group following the trustee’s passing of the May 4 resolution.

Shay Little, the vice president of Student Affairs, also attended Thursday’s meeting. The May 4 Task Force wrote an open letter to Little, Kent State President Beverly Warren and Rod Flauhaus, one of the commemoration planners.

The letter listed four demands: for the 50th commemoration committee meeting be open to any member of the May 4 community, make the minutes from these meetings publicly available, for the university to commit to acting in good faith with the Task Force, and for the resolution involving May 4 to be shared with the Task Force and not be passed until a majority voted in favor of it.

The Task Force focused on their first and second demands, given that the resolution had passed without their vote.

The lack of meeting notes troubled Task Force members; the group said the committee meetings were only open to student co-chairs and the faculty advisor. According to the Task Force, none of the community members were welcome at the trustees meeting, which made them feel left out of the conversation. There is a mention of opening up 50 commemoration committee meetings to anyone, including The Kent Stater.

“With the 51st approaching, there is a need to open and allow those with passion into those meetings,” said Ben Smith, an alumni member. “Without the drive of motivated people involved it will become humdrum.”

The May 4 Task Force’s meetings are open and have posted minutes following each meeting.

While the university will be in charge of the May 4 events, the Task Force brought up the candlelit vigil that occurs May 3 and asked if the university would be taking that on as well. Little suggested the Task Force bring this question to the programming committee, run by Flauhaus.

Historically, the Task Force brought in more political-based speakers, such as Richard Celeste and Samaria Rice, in recent commemorations. Task Force members questioned who the university would bring to speak that will have the same impact since they are non-partisan.

“May 4 happened because students were being political about war, you can’t whitewash that,” said Mary Mosher, a Task Force member.

In addition, Smith brought concerns about how the university could continue to change May 4; he said the university whitewashed Black United Student’s (BUS) Martin Luther King Jr. Day program, claiming the 18th annual celebration, while BUS’s programs began in 1969.

Smith also mentioned a conversation with Alan Canfora, a May 4 survivor, on how the 50th commemoration would have a larger budget and more media coverage. Smith also said he was concerned that following commemorations would be scaled down.

Another concern is the university commemorating historical anti-university events, such as Tent City, a protest following May 4 to protect the recently made national landmark.

In 1977, the administration approved plans to build a gym annex that would be built over the May 4 site. This caused an uproar throughout the community and on May 12 that year, 1,500 people marched to the Board of Trustees meeting to end the plan, according toThe Kent Stater.

When the request was denied, 60 people vowed to camp out over the site, marking the beginning of Tent City. Police removed over 100 demonstrators in that July and then destroyed Tent City. In September 1977, 1,300 people continuously came to protest and camp out to protect the site.

The need for better communication is brought up by Smith, who pointed out that there were more responses after the Task Force released their open letter than before it came out.

Smith then brought up “actionable goals” following the passing of the resolution, which includes anonymously publishing quotes from former Task Force members to show disagreements and possible plans to hold a separate commemoration later on May 4. These events put on by the May 4 Task Force would be funded by USG.

Another actionable goal discussed is moving forward from the 50th, using language starting at the 51st commemoration and forming committees that are open to everyone with interest in planning it.

Little then entered the discussion fully and told the Task Force she looked forward to the meeting. She mentioned how the resolution recognized the May 4 Task Force’s dedication, and Little acknowledges the university’s failure to claim May 4.

“There’s great appreciation for the Task Force,” Little said. “We would not be celebrating the 50th without the May 4 Task Force.”

Little’s statement was rebutted by several Task Force members, who said they did not want to just be acknowledged — they want to be involved.

“The university is solving problems of its own creation and expecting to be rewarded for it,” Smith said. “Now we’re the problem.”

Smith said the acknowledgment felt like a “slap to the face” and “disingenuous in nature” since the resolution passed without input from the Task Force.

Little said there are May 4 community members on several committees, such as Chic Canfora and Alan Canfora, who are May 4 survivors. Little did not know members who are not family members of those who survived May 4.

Little told the Task Force that if they want to get involved, they should email Rod Flauhaus; however, one Task Force member said they reached out previously and while they received an email from Little, they never heard back from Flauhaus.

Task Force members said it was a waste to waitlist people who want to get involved.

“We’re involved in the 50th, whether you want us or not,” Smith said. “We’ve been involved since 1971.”

One of the larger concerns addressed is the Task Force’s role moving forward to the 51st commemoration of May 4.

“The university wants broad engagement for the 50th commemoration,” Little said. “The university would lead commemorations moving forward and involvement from students and community members moving forward is important.”

Little said the great privilege and responsibility of student groups is bringing forward a “diversity of ideas and a broad outreach of involvement.”

The student groups are responsible for bringing provocative thoughts and speakers to the university, Little said.

“The university is a place to foster the free exchange from ideas,” Little said.

Thomas Beeler, a senior zoology major and the USG senator at large for sustainability,  then asked Little: If the Task Force does such a great job, why are we being pushed away?

Smith said that the model for May 4 is consistent; there is no “great” mystery.

“The first meeting after May 4 is the same,” Smith said. “There is a free exchange of ideas and comments for the next one.”

Maddie Camp, a student co-chair and a sophomore political science major, is apprehensive following the meeting.

“I feel like we were being listened to more than we were in past meeting with administration, but I still don’t think we got a lot of concrete responses,” Camp said.

Camp reiterated Beeler’s, point, asking if the university is so appreciative of the Task Force, then why is the Task Force being excluded?

Camp hopes the administration makes changes to create a more accessible environment for the 50th commemoration meetings, pointing out they are most accessible to those who are free in the middle of the day. Because of this, Camp said there is an exclusion of the working class population as well as students who have classes during committee meeting times.

Camp wants to know if the university will work with the Task Force in the future or if it will continue to listen to their concerns without taking visible action.

“The reality is that the Task Force will continue to exist and to carry out our mission no matter what the university tells us,” Camp said. “(The Task Force) has done so for 45 years under much more hostile administrations.”

Madison MacArthur is a senior reporter. Contact her at [email protected].