May 4th Task Force to continue, but the future is still uncertain

For the third and final question, the May 4th Task Force asked, “What is the future of the May 4th Task Force given its past legacy?” The results varied, with the ability for people to select multiple options. 

Gina Butkovich Editor In Chief Sara CrawfordOpinion editor

The future of the May 4th Task Force has still not been finalized, but Task Force co-chairs Ethan Lower and Olivia Salter have stated that it will not be going away. 

“The people that we interviewed most definitely and most overwhelmingly wanted a legacy,” Salter said about the responses her and Lower got during an independent study they did on the Task Force. “They wanted their work to continue and they didn’t want it to go away because there were years and years and years of this really instrumental piece of Kent State so they didn’t want it to vanish. And they wanted it to be interesting to young people and they wanted a future where students could learn from their work.” 

Lower and Salter presented the results of the independent study they had completed on the state of and the future of the May 4th Task Monday night. After obtaining IRB approval to ensure everything is done ethically, the two worked to interview students and past participants, sorted out their data and then found the common themes throughout such research. 

Lower and Salter admit to having a lack of current student responses in their paper, and plan to continue the study in the coming semesters with a concentration on getting student responses. 

“We talked to people that had been in the task force a long time ago, and people that were in the task force maybe two or three years ago, and we talked to really like the main players in the May 4 Task Force arena,” Salter said. 

Lower and Salter made it clear that the Task Force will not be leaving Kent State, but are still unsure about what the Task Force will look like in the coming years. 

“This is our input,” Lower said. “I’m going to be here for next semester and when we met with university administration and they were obliged to meet over the summer, to meet next semester and to really try to get a concrete ‘this is what the Task Force will be’ by next fall.” 

The study concentrated on answering three questions, the first one being “why is it important for this organization to exist as well as continue to be a platform for the student population and student activism.” This question, Salter said, led to the next two questions they looked at — “how is the memory of May 4th 1970 and the mission of the students whose lives were lost best served in the modern world” and finally “what is the future of the May 4th Task Force given its past legacy?” 

When it came to the future of the Task Force, the findings showed that the people interviewed by Lower and Salter believe that they should be teaching and promoting activism, in addition, to holding the university accountable. 

“We don’t have to disagree with every university initiative,” Lower said. “In fact, good initiatives should be promoted and that’s part of accountability. The aspects of education, for instance, that you like, we should be able to voice our support for them and continue them.”

At the end of the presentation, Lower and Salter offered three recommendations for the future of the Task Force based on the results of the study. The first recommendation was that Kent State establish a specific annual commemorative planning process and designate a person to head the event. 

“This means, coming out of the pandemic and coming out of the 50th, with designated people in charge of planning May 4th and in charge of planning educational programs,” Lower said. “That way the Task Force can start to craft its own definitive role in annual commemoration as well as alongside other university programs.” 

Lower stressed the idea that without this process being made explicit, it will seem to many that the Task Force is aimless or is being dissolved. 

The second recommendation was that the May 4th Task Force revise its constitution to reflect its dedication to current students, democratic decision making and topics that can be used to connect May 4 1970 to modern day issues. 

This section had a bullet point that read “students only.” Community members have traditionally had a role on the Task Force and Salter states that they hope that will still be the case, but in a different role than has previously been the case. 

“They have a wealth of knowledge,” Salter said of the community members who have been involved with the Task Force. “But in their traditional sense, in the way that the Task Force has operated, we think that there is a better role for them that serves in a much different way. What that way is, we don’t know. We’ll find out.” 

In general, Salter said, they see the role of community members as not being in the same role as the students. 

The third and final recommendation that Lower and Salter presented was that the May 4th Task Force invite student, university and community voices to a dialogue regarding the path forward. 

“We want to incentivize student participation,” Lower said. “Get them involved in reviewing this research and looking forward to the Task Force. Make sure that we have a contact in the university to talk to about May 4th planning. Address community concerns, which is something we are going to do when we answer your questions today, and treat this organization as important, as special, because it is. It is a part of this university in a way that a lot of organizations just aren’t.” 

Following the presentation, Lower and Salter took questions from attendees. When asked if they had any initial thoughts on the proposals that Kent State Students for a Democratic Society posted on Medium on Saturday, Salter said that in terms of handing the May 4 Task Force back to the students, they were doing that. 

“I am more than willing to work with SDS and I am positive Ethan is too,” Salter said. “But in terms of handing it back to the students, I think that we’re doing that. I think that we are the students and it’s time that we form a coalition between ourselves and that we communicate and that we figure out what is best for this organization instead of working against each other.” 

Salter’s comments, Colt Hutchinson, chair of Students of a Democratic Society, said after the meeting, misunderstood the actual demands SDS put out. 

“We’re not saying to return it to the task force,” Hutchinson said. “We’re saying to include broader student participation into the committee, so that students have an adequate voice.” 

Salter also suggested that SDS “email our email and let’s work something out.” 

Hutchinson said, “we’ve been doing it all semester and he rebuffed us, they have no interest in working with any of the points that we’ve been working on.” 

The demands SDS made state that while they are not against the university having a part in the planning of commemorations, they want them to “establish a genuine working relationship with the student body regarding all commemoration planning and other May 4 related programming.” Specifically, they demand more transparency in order to help ensure that students and community members are all able to participate. 

“There’s an issue with university but as Colt mentioned more broad student representation, not just one student or two,” said Bryce Schlenker, co-chair of SDS. “When the university took over control and closed off the meetings and made it a very insular process. It was very limited student interaction and feedback.”

While Salter did not speak about the transparency demand while answering the question, at a later point in the meeting Lower spoke of his time on a University run 50th commemoration committee and expressed a hope that, in the future, the planning of commemorations would include more student input. 

“In our meetings with university, we agreed that there has to be a more efficient way of doing that and a way that incorporates more student input,” Lower said. “I voiced my concerns, for instance, that one of those barriers could be that I was one of two students on that committee and I felt a big weight to represent the vast majority of the student body.” 

Karen Cunningham, now a professor in the School of Peace and Conflict and past Task Force advisor, asked about what will happen in the future to a scholarship that the Task Force traditionally grants every year. Because the Task Force still exists, Salter said, they should still have the structure in place to administer it. 

Beyond just the scholarship, Lower seemed unsure of what would end up happening to the budget overall of the Task Force, but intends to keep an independent bank account. 

“We have a full outside bank account and that is a conversation that is very technical to talk about how that would work,” Lower said. “You’re completely correct in posing that question. That is something that we will have to look at, not just in terms of what is best but what is legally an option, or financially an option.” 

The Task Force also receives funding from the Undergraduate Student Government. USG bylaws state that “the May 4th Task Force will receive a minimum sum equivalent to 1.75% of the Undergraduate Student Activities Tuition Allocation designated for distribution by the Undergraduate Student Government for the exclusive purpose of funding the May 4th Commemoration that will take place during the week of May 4th of the respective fiscal year.” Lower said the intention is also to continue this funding, though it is a more technical conversation that the Task Force will need to look further into. 

The entirety of the report has not yet been made public. Uma Krishnan, an English professor at Kent State and the faculty advisor of the study, said the report would be made available at some point in the future, though she is not yet sure how it will be published. 

“We want the legacy [of the Task Force] to continue,” Krishnan said.

 Contact Sara Crawford at [email protected].

 Contact Gina Butkovich at [email protected].