In looking back at the Kent State tragedy of May 4, 1970, when four students engaged in protest of the Vietnam War were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard, it seems appropriate to reflect on the reaction at Wright State’s campus. As a fairly new university of mostly commuter students with a very young faculty, the response at WSU was somewhat unique from other college campuses.
While student life on the WSU campus in 1970 was fairly sedate, (some would say non-existent), a very vocal student community had begun to emerge, and campus protest activities, while smaller in scale, were fairly common. Due to the smaller size of the groups involved in campus protests activities, they tended to take on a more conversational, forum based format, and this was true also in the aftermath of the Kent State massacre.
After initial reactions of disbelief, grief, and anger, WSU students joined in a nation-wide student strike on college campuses in mourning the lost lives of the Kent State students and to condemn the actions of a state governor in the violent suppression of student protest. As student anger mounted and in an effort to avoid campus violence, Gary Hunt, WSU’s first student body president, with the assistance of faculty members, organized “A Day of Understanding” for the WSU campus on May 7: “I would recommend that we now, without delay, muster our energies to prevent violence here, and just as importantly, make Wright State a better place to be in these anxiety-ridden moments”.
An open microphone was set up on Founder’s Quadrangle at 10am, with different members of the campus community stepping up throughout the day to share their thoughts, including students, faculty, and administrators. A culminating activity for the day, orchestrated by Dr. Emil Kmetec of the Chemistry Department, was a letter writing campaign on the Quad for students to write to Governor Rhodes, which were all mailed directly to the governor at the end of the day’s activities.
While this is just a very small anecdote in remembrance of the May 4 tragedy at Kent State, it’s a meaningful and largely unknown story in the early history of WSU, and a way for us to look back on the 50th anniversary of May 4, 1970.