Protesting war at Kent State

By Kendall Neil
March 20, 2003

Photo from Kent State Year Book, courtesy of Cathy Youngman

It was the day the war came home. On May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, 4 students met their fate as they protested the war in Vietnam. “The times were different because of the draft,” Cathy Yungmann, department of English/communication, said. Yungmann was a freshman at Kent State when the killings took place, “every area had a draft board and they had a quota of so many young men that they had to draft. But as long as you were a student, you had an automatic exemption from the draft. The students were afraid that if President Nixon stretched the war to Cambodia, they would need more bodies to send over, meaning more body bags would be coming back.”

“Because the news was very controlled during the time of the war, teachers would hold teach-ins,” Yungmann said, “the faculty would come in and teach about the war and talk to the students about what was going on.” Students became so heated about the war that they started protests and somebody even took it so far as to set fire to an ROTC shack that was located on the center of campus. The rowdiness started to get out of hand and the governor called the National Guard to come take control of the campus; the president of the university wasn’t even in town but because the school was a state school, the control was returned to the state. “Tanks just started rolling onto campus; it was unbelievable. Arm guards were at every single building as students were trying to go to class and it was midterm week,” Yungmann said.

A dusk to dawn curfew was set in place and a violation of the curfew would result in being arrested. Groups of more than four students were considered an illegal assembly. Because martial law was declared, any law could be made up and enforced, no questions asked. Groups of more then five people were considered an illegal assembly. “We couldn’t sleep, we couldn’t do anything. These troops were all over and some of them were our age. It was going to explode,” Yungmann said.

The students decided that they had enough and decided to protest the martial law and the war. The students lined up at the top of a hill in front of a building towards the center of campus and the National Guard lined up at the bottom of the hill. After telling the students to disperse, the National Guard began lobbing tear gas towards the students. The students then would throw them back down the hill. “Remember a lot of these soldiers were young kids facing young kids,” Yungmann said, “somebody said that they heard a shot so the guardsmen knelt down and started shooting at the students. An honor student lived in my dorm and she was walking to class with an armful of books far away from where things were going on. She was shot in the back and killed. They weren’t shooting at kids on the hill; they were just shooting.”

During the shootings, Yungmann was at the radio station who was broadcasting the protest live. “Everyone ran back to their dorms. I didn’t go back right away. Eventually, word came that we had to go back to our dorms. I walked across this campus alone; there were no other people at all. I was terrified, it was so scary,” Yungmann said. Shortly after that, the announcement came that campus would be closed and everyone had to leave. However, they weren’t letting anyone come on campus to pick up the students. “My mom got close to the exit where the campus was to come pick me up, but the National Guard turned her away,” Yungmann said.

Because Kent State was so large, they had their own bus system. In order for the students to get off campus, the student drivers took charge and put signs in the windows and drove around campus. “If a bus came by that was going to a place you could go, you got on. We had to leave. I grabbed a tiny bag and got on a bus. The student drivers knew what they had to do. The closest city to me was Cleveland. I got to a phone and called my mom and she came to get me.”

Students weren’t allowed on campus for weeks until a letter was sent around allowing students a narrow time slot for them to come and retrieve their belongings. A jeep escort with armed guards took the students to their dorm. Teachers sent letters home and gave the students the option to finish out the course by mail or take their midterm grade as their final grade. “In most of my classes, I finished by mail,” Yungmann said.

Times have changed since the Kent State murders, but we are found in a similar situation where war is again knocking on our door. Here at Cabrini College it is possible to get involved in different protests and activism through the Wolfington Center. For more information on how to get involved in any upcoming activities, call Mary Lavar at extension 8409 or email at

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Kendall Neil

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