Looking at May 4 through the eyes of a sociologist

Kelsey Leyva

Kelsey Leyva

[email protected]

Students, staff and faculty at Kent State University examined the May 4, 1970 events through the eyes of a sociologist at the Undergraduate Sociological Collective’s event entitled “The Commons as Sacred Space.”

Dr. Jerry M. Lewis, professor emeritus of sociology, discussed the May 4 events, as he understood them, based on the functionalist perspective of sociology. The two main objectives of the lecture were to increase the understanding of the significance of the May 4 events and how the commons became a sacred space.

The functionalist perspective attempts to explain social institutions as collective means to meet social and individual needs. Lewis’ based his argument on the commons as a sacred space on the works of sociologists Emile Durkheim, Mary Douglas and Jeffery Alexander.

“I would argue that what was sacred was student culture,” he said. “The polluting act then, of course, was presence of the guard on campus.”

Lewis, co-founder of the candlelight walk and vigil, gave the example of the standing vigil for space that is considered sacred.

“Notice the vigil involves space, doesn’t it,” he said. “It’s all about honoring space. We have a situation where a mundane thing, a parking lot, has become sacred.”

Stephen Keto, sociology professor and faculty advisor for the collective, said that Lewis breaks down the events in way that’s easy to comprehend.

“I think it makes it easier to understand the events when you put it in a sociological content,” he said. “But it’s also easier to understand sociological concepts when you have real life events that you can plug into it.”

Keto also noted that the focus of the May 4 events should not be on where the blame lies.

“He’s [Lewis] always been very careful to not blame any party for the events,” he said. “This was something where there’s enough blame to go around to everybody. “I think the take away thing is that regardless on the debate of who gave an order, was there an order, why did they shoot — it boils down to the sad tragedy of the event. It was kind of a loss of innocence.”

Cheyenne McGowan, senior at Lakeland Senior High School, said she found the lecture to be very informative.

“I thought it was very interesting because I didn’t know a lot about the shooting in the first place,” she said. “I knew there was a shooting, but this was the first time I heard all the details.

McGowan believes that staff and students at Kent State should continue the tradition of having a vigil every May 4.

“Students should really always honor it,” she said. “I think it has so much meaning. Just grass and concrete has so much meaning.”

Kelsea Manthey, junior sociology major and president of the collective, said that attending lectures such as this is not only informative, but a great way to network as well.

“We’re just trying to make students more aware of sociology, especially sociology majors,” she said. “It’s really important for students who are sociology majors to get involved with it [the collective], meet more sociology majors and make connections.”

Contact Kelsey Leyva at [email protected].