University Relations forced to deal with May 4 back in headlines

Taylor Rogers

Amid new revelations about May 4, 1970, Kent State is searching for the best way to ensure it’s known for more than that day.

What happened 40 years ago has long contributed to its reputation, but Kent State has made headlines again after a new audio analysis reveals four gunshots were fired before the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine.

Iris Harvey, vice president for University Relations, said it will be important to focus on other aspects of the university’s history.

“I think May 4 was certainly a very impactful day, but it was just one day,” Harvey said. “We believe there was a history before that day and a history after that day.”

The image created by the shooting is something the university has struggled to overcome. The new audio evidence and subsequent congressional inquiry into the events of May 4 come weeks after University Relations launched a million-dollar television advertising campaign.

But Harvey said she entered her position proud of what Kent State students stood for that day.

“As a baby boomer, I’m from a generation that was proactive in exercising our constitutional rights and obligations to uphold our democracy,” Harvey said in an e-mail. “Therefore for me, Kent State’s image was one that I could feel proud of and that I proudly serve.”

Kent State is just one of the many universities in the country that has had to battle the stigma of a shooting. Jackson State University had a similar event just 10 days after May 4.

Two students died when local law enforcement fired more than 150 rounds into a residence hall, claiming a sniper was inside. Investigators could not find enough evidence to support that claim.

C. Leigh McInnis, a creative writing professor at Jackson State, said his students are required to write an analytical essay on the shooting so they can better understand why it happened and what they can learn from it.

McInnis said he thinks the university has done a good job of moving forward while still honoring the event.

“That’s a fine line to straddle,” he said. “We want to remember it. We want to empower our students with the memory and history of it, but we don’t want it to become the only thing for which we are known.”

The University of Texas experienced two separate shootings on campus. Fourteen people died and more than 30 were wounded after a student went on a shooting rampage from the university’s tower in 1966.

Susan Clagett, associate vice president of public affairs at the University of Texas, said the years following that event were full of uncertainty.

“I think at the time, the university, along with other public institutions, did not know how to respond to that situation,” Clagett said. “It’s taken a long time really.”

The most recent shooting in September left only the shooter dead, but Clagett said the university was well prepared. She said the best they can do is handle the situation properly and move forward.

The university now devotes the last day of its spring semester to remembering lives lost in the previous year. That’s how they move on, Clagett said.

“I just think that’s an important part of who we are now,” she said. “As those horrible things occur, we now have a way to respond that is just built into our culture and was not there in 1966.”

Contact Taylor Rogers at [email protected].