KSU reborn in aftermath of shootings
Canton Repository
May 7, 2005

Sixty-seven shots were fired, four students were dead at Kent State University on an afternoon 35 years ago Thursday. That day, the university too died, another casualty of the Vietnam War.

Many of us who were students there still don’t understand it. For us, May 4 passes peacefully with our sad memories and unanswered questions.

I’m not writing about the shootings today. We’ve had plenty on that. This is about the aftermath.

I’d been there three years. KSU was 20,000 students. Its identity was indefinable. Many called it faceless, impersonal, a place to get a degree and get the hell out and make some money.

On May 4, this perception changed.

After the shootings, the university’s ambulance drove through campus with a loudspeaker: “By order of President White, the university is closed. Students must leave.”

At the moment we needed the compassion of our friends and the leadership of our teachers, they were ripped from us. The administration disappeared. We left so fast, police days later found radios playing in the dorms.

All we heard was the extremists yelling in the media. Give Kent State the death penalty. Close it forever. Punish the students, cancel our draft deferments, ship us all to Vietnam.

Twenty-thousand students internalized the trauma: What is the effect on me? A quarter-million grades were due in the five remaining weeks of spring quarter. I feared I had wasted three years of my life.

Then it happened. Kent State, without a campus or classes, without the Hub student union or dorms or parking permits or libraries or lecture halls, suddenly found itself.

Professors, locked out of their offices, gathered in coffee shops and houses. There was no formal plan from the university. There was only a goal, no more victims.

Then came the phone calls, thousands of them. Our profs asked how we were doing. They said that contrary to the news media, we still had a school. They insisted everybody would graduate, all credits would be earned. They’d do it in a most unusual way.

Fat envelopes began arriving from their homes, not the university. Remaining coursework was outlined, lectures transcribed, reading and assignments made. It was 100 percent homework.

We took the cue. Canton journalism students gathered and wrote stories and helped each other. The clerk at the Stark County Law Library, closed to the public, opened her shelves to us and helped us research libel cases.

This was happening wherever KSU students were. A chemistry student filmed her experiments in her kitchen. The Kent city post office was jammed with architectural models, research papers, Blue Book exams, artwork and countless other trappings of higher learning, all addressed to profs’ homes.

We worked harder than any other quarter at KSU. Studying at home brought relief and revelation. Our teachers now were personal and immediate. We got our work back with long critiques and caring patience. It was real, far from the faceless TV lecture halls.

That summer, 1,500 graduates were mailed their diplomas. The rest of us come fall quarter were back on campus with a very different notion about the school. It now was our school.

The shootings were the lowest watermark of many of our lives. The rescue of the university restored our faith in the place and, even more importantly, in ourselves.

You can reach Repository New Media Editor Jim Hillibish at (330) 580-8324 or e-mail:


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