May 4 Visitors Center hosts town hall forums

Austin Farber

Students and faculty members gathered in Taylor Hall Friday afternoon to discuss the limits of our freedom of speech.

The May 4 Visitors Center, along with several other sponsors, hosted a town hall style meeting to discuss the limits to the First Amendment and freedom of speech, the first in a series of town hall meetings that will all address current issues and tie them with Kent’s 1970s shooting.

“The goal is to leave everyone wondering, questioning and thinking,” Mindy Farmer, director of the May 4 Visitors Center, said. “We want to show any topic, no matter how sensitive, can be be discussed open and honestly.”

The meeting gave everyone in attendance a historical look into what has become a major contemporary issue.

Beginning with a brief background of the events that transpired on May 4, 1970, the topic of discussion slowly turned into how the tragedy violated our First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment gives all Americans the freedom of religion, speech, press. It also grants citizens the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government.

“I think it was a clear violation of the First Amendment,” May 4 author Jerry Lewis said. “It also happened on a sight, the commons, that is dedicated to free speech.”

Lewis described the commons at Kent State as a place where peaceful protest was previously permitted.

According to professor Paul Haridakis, an expert on freedom of speech who spoke at the meeting, the commons in any city have always been a place of debate. A place where people could talk freely about the issues of the day. When the government tries to restrict our freedom of speech, our democracy is greatly affected.

That freedom was taken away on May 4, 1970.

“That’s why this meeting is so important,” Lewis said. “To keep reminding us. To keep reminding the people of the importance of the freedom of speech. After all, that’s the essence of a democracy.”

While the meeting related to the May 4 incident, it eventually transitioned into a discussion about freedom of speech restrictions in modern times.

Issues such as police brutality, internet content and the recent investigation of Kent State associate professor Julio Pino were all discussed. The theme of the discussion was where one persons freedom of speech ends, and another’s begins.

“It was cool to see all the different perspectives,” Jake McClellan, senior middle childhood education major, said. “Having Jerry Lewis here was an awesome experience. His story and thoughts added a lot to the discussion.”

Faculty participants stressed the importance of knowing about our freedoms as our rights seem to be depleting daily.

“I learned that freedom of speech is in the First Amendment for a reason,” McClellan said. “Let’s not forget that.”

Lewis is available to speak about his experiences every Monday afternoon in the May 4 Visitor Center. He has also written three books on the event that can be found at local bookstores and the Kent State library.

The May 4 Visitor Center hopes on hosting two or three town hall meetings each semester. The next one will take place during the last week of April.

Austin Farber is a social services reporter. Contact him at [email protected].