After the Kent State Shootings: Bowling Green State University's Reaction
On May 4th 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Kent State University students, killing four. A few hours later, Bowling Green State University President William T. Jerome addressed a crowd of over 500 concerned students from the steps of Williams Hall. The BG News of May 5th 1970 quotes him describing the events as “one of the most tragic moments I have known” and further stating “the next ten days will tell us more about the destiny of this University than everything that has happened before.”
Jerome was in the final months of his presidency at the time of the shootings, but those prophetic “next ten days” would come to define his career as both a college president and a leader in the heat of the antiwar movement. Many BGSU students, staff, and Bowling Green community members, expressed support for Jerome and his guidance, while others were deeply critical of his response. Examples of letters demonstrating the full range of sentiments are included in this collection.
“Your availability, quickness to act, and sympathetic response prevented violence at BGSU, I am certain,” wrote graduate student Dee Howard. “When a situation explodes we know a bad decision has been made. When a situation does not explode, we too often fail to realize that someone has been making good decisions,” marketing professor Bill Hoskins noted. Marie Hodge, Dean of the business administration department, wrote, “Recent events could only have evolved in the framework of the quality of leadership and pride you have contributed. It has been rewarding to me to have been here during these years.”
Some parents, in particular, were outraged by Jerome’s perceived capitulation to demands made by the Black Student Union as well as the university’s stated opposition to the war in Vietnam. Referring to college students as “dope crazed, maniacal teeny-boppers” Robert F. McGehean wrote in a post-script, “I am most sick of paying for your combination college and country club. Or is it a progressive kindergarten?” while Betty J. Dunham proclaimed that “The Communists now have control of our educational institutions through our youth, just as their prescribed plan of action predicted… Apparently you and your left wing professors care nothing for your own futures or the future of America…”
This collection also includes several interviews made at the time with some of the university's Resident Advisors. It is, unfortunately, unclear who made these recordings and with what aim, but the recordings offer a first hand account of student’s reactions at this tumultuous time. For the most part the consensus reported is positive, suggesting that many students felt galvanised by the surrounding events, and chose to express their feelings by means of peaceful protest, campus ‘teach-ins,’ and similar activities. Don Collins reported that “I heard some people who had never said anything before come out, and say “I wanna do something. I’ve been sitting back too long. Before this week, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but now, maybe, maybe the youth of America do have something to say. And I wanna be part of that.””
Note: Unfortunately, the recordings in this collection came to us without any accompanying index to identify any of the speakers. We have tried to research the names based soley on how they appear in the recordings; if you have any corrections or additional information, please contact us via the About page above.
Notes on Transcription: Commas are not used here in the grammatically correct convention, but are used to identify short pauses in the recorded speech, while ellipses denote longer pauses.
During the interviews there is a regular recurrence of a sound identified as [MICROPHONE NOISE]. This is probably caused by the interviewer editing on the fly by using the pause button on the tape recorder, the resulting sound being picked up by the recording unit. Often it appears that this technique is used to ‘edit out’ the interviewer’s questions, possibly as a means of saving tape.