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New Kent State Memorial to be dedicated on 45th anniversary

student strike 1970A time of political unrest across the U.S. that resulted in student deaths in Ohio and student activism in Eau Claire will be commemorated May 4 with the dedication of a new Kent State Memorial at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. 

On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen shot 13 unarmed Kent State University students who were participants and bystanders at a campus protest against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Four of those students died.

At 11:24 a.m. May 4, 2015, the UW-Eau Claire campus community will honor the event with the dedication of a new Kent State Memorial on the lawn at the northwest corner of Phillips Science Hall. The date and time mark the 45th anniversary of the Kent State University shootings and the resulting peaceful student strike at what was then Wisconsin State University-Eau Claire to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State deaths. 

The 1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia, the protests against the invasion, the subsequent shootings at Kent State and the nationwide student strike in response to the shootings brought American politics and society to a point of extreme divisiveness, said Robert Gough, professor emeritus of history. 

Kent State protest"The peaceful outcome of the protest movement at places like WSU-EC, in retrospect, showed that there was still a middle ground in American politics, which could debate the issues of the war without resorting to violence or infringement on the academic integrity of the university," Gough said.

Featured events on May 4 will include the dedication of a memorial plaque and comments by Chancellor James Schmidt, former state Sen. Robert Jauch (Student Senate president in 1970) and current Student Senate vice president Jake Wrasse. Four crab apple trees will be planted at the site to represent the four students killed during the Kent State University protests against the Vietnam War in 1970. 

Students show support for the campus-wide strike. (Photo credit The Spectator, May 14, 1970.)"Although 45 years have passed, for many of our students from the early 1970s these events may forever remain vivid memories," said Greg Kocken, head of Special Collections & Archives at UW-Eau Claire. "While we cannot replace the original memorial that was removed during the construction of the new W.R. Davies Student Center, this new memorial does demonstrate that our campus recognizes events of the past and understands the need to remember those events." 

Following the dedication, beginning at noon in Woodland Theater of Davies Center, the Chancellor's Centennial History Lecture Series will present "Voices of Protest; Voices of Reason: The Response to the Kent State Shootings at Wisconsin State University-Eau Claire." The presentation will be led by Gough and Alice Ridge, professor emerita of communication and journalism. During the event, segments of an audio recording from the campus protest on May 6, 1970, including President Leonard Haas' campus address, will be played. The audio will be accompanied by expert commentary placing the protests into a broader context. 

"The dedication and ceremony on campus this year, which appropriately are part of a nationwide movement to recognize the 45th anniversary of the shootings, should remind people of the fragility of the civic process, and specifically of the dangers to democratic government of using military-like force to contain or break up peaceful public demonstrations," Gough said. "They should also remind people of the importance of human agency in history, specifically the leadership role of President Leonard Haas in diffusing student anger by his remarks to the demonstration rally of May 6, 1970."

The Kent State Memorial events are free and open to the public. Parking will be available in the Human Sciences and Services parking lot on Water Street. For more information, contact Greg Kocken, head of Special Collections & Archives at UW-Eau Claire, at 715-836-3873 or kockeng@uwec.edu