KSU pride?

Zach Wiita

It’s happened a thousand times. I meet someone, and I introduce myself. They ask me what I do. “I’m a student at Kent State University,” I reply.

At this point, they often use one of two responses. The first one is more benign. “Oh, Kent State, eh? ‘Can’t read, can’t write, can’t think, Kent State!'” The second is a bit less harmless. “Oh. You mean, like, where they shot people?”

Ask anyone on campus, and they’ll tell you that Kent State University does not have the best of reputations. For my money, that’s a shame. While it’s more than fair to say that Kent State has a lot of students who are double majoring in beer and parties, this is, after all, one of the largest universities in Ohio. There are plenty of students who are not just going to school to get drunk or get laid. And while the May 4 shootings are an important part of Kent State’s heritage and identity, they shouldn’t be the only things that define this university.

Take, for example, the Liquid Crystal Institute. How many of you knew that the LCI here in ol’ Kent is the world’s only program dedicated to the study of liquid crystals? The institute has been around since 1965, and it’s developed technologies that let Kent State claim a lot of nifty things. Have you ever worn a digital watch? Used a calculator? GPS device? Those displays exist because of what’s called the “twisted nematic liquid crystal display” developed by the LCI’s James Ferguson in 1967.

Maybe you’ve heard of those high-tech windows that can become opaque if you hit a switch? We came up with that, too. The Liquid Crystal Institute is a source of enormous prestige – if you know about it.

Kent State gets derided a lot as a school with poor academic programs. It’s even an international phenomenon. I have a friend who lives in England who, in mentioning that her uncle went to Kent State, felt the need to immediately clarify: “And he’s not stupid.” She paused and continued, “And you’re not, either!”

I can personally cite two wonderful academic programs here at Kent State that enriched my college experience: The Columbus Program in Intergovernmental Issues and the Washington Program in National Issues. With each program, students go to live in the programs’ respective cities. They intern in the state or federal government, or in an important non-governmental office, while attending classes built around describing the state and federal governments.

In Columbus, I interned in the office of then-state Sen. Kimberly Zurz and in D.C. I interned in the office of then-U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden – and I did both before declaring my political science major. They’re open to anyone, and I found that they opened doors that programs at many schools would never have been able to help with.

And on top of that, Kent State should get some credit for its arts programs. I can’t speak with much authority about the visual arts or music programs, but I can tell you that it has excellent theatre and dance programs. I’m always blown away by the talent and ability of the dancers when I go to see a show. Their grace and energy is astonishing.

Kent State’s Theatre Department puts on four shows on the main stages every year, two musicals and two straight plays. One of those productions each year is directed by a professional director brought to Kent through a special endowment, bringing some wonderful directors to our community. Theatre students also put on numerous student-run productions in our black box theatre during the school year, and during the summer many from our department work at Porthouse Theatre, a professional outdoor theater that puts on three shows a summer to consistently huge crowds.

If all this sounds a bit congratulatory, that’s probably a fair criticism. But I have to say, in spite of the problems here at Kent State – and retaining students with GPAs below .5 certainly counts as a major problem in my book, to say nothing of the ongoing problems with students more interested in partying and trashing a dorm or a house than accomplishing anything – I’m proud of this school. I think Kent State is a better university than most people I’ve met have tended to give it credit for, and I’d like to see its reputation improve.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]