Students are not as involved today as in 1970, speaker says

Lisa Moore

Students today don’t understand the significance of May 4, professor David Zarefsky said at The Democracy Symposium yesterday.

Today, when you ask undergraduates about the events of May 4, their response is a laugh, he said.

“How can it carry so much weight up against 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina,” he said.

Zarefsky, professor of argumentation, debate and communication at Northwestern University for over 30 years, spoke in the Kiva yesterday. He talked about the important role democratic rhetoric plays in preserving the balance between a healthy public forum and active democratic debate.

Zarefsky said few people over the age of 55 have forgotten the events that took place on May 4.

In 1970, Kent State Students were involved in democratic debate, he said.

They left the classrooms to speak out. They ignored finals. They went to the protest to persuade and do what they could, Zarefsky said.

The concept of democracy was defined by Abraham Lincoln years ago as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” Zarefsky said.

The problem with democracy today is whether people have the motivation to engage with their government, he said.

The public forum is not as strong as it must be to meet the needs of our time, Zarefsky said. He defined a public forum as an organized disagreement, which states what we believe or what we think.

“The technology revolution creates unlimited accessibility for people to express themselves,” he said. “(People have) an increasing opportunity to express themselves today than in the 1960s. If we don’t come together in public forum, we do it through force and violence.”

The problem, Zarefsky said, is in our culture, because promoting public debate is not seen as a good thing.

“We can nurture debate-thinking in our classrooms,” he said. “Appreciate different beliefs and values and become involved in the public by promoting students not to sit on the sidelines.”

Before Zarefsky spoke, President Carol Cartwright was presented with four daffodils by James Gaudino, dean of the College of Communication and Information.

He said he did not want to give Cartwright another plaque to hang on a wall. The gift instead was reminiscent of the daffodils surrounding the May 4 memorial outside Taylor Hall.

Cartwright founded the annual symposium in 2000 to honor Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, the four students who lost their lives May 4.

Contact news correspondent Lisa Moore at [email protected]