by Havann Brown, editor-in-chief
DECEMBER 2021 – Dr. Roseann “Chic” Canfora visited Bio-Med Science Academy on Nov. 17 to speak with the junior class about her experience at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, and to highlight the importance of democracy. This was one of the culminating activities ending the juniors’ integrated study of the Baby Boomer generation.
Canfora, a professional-in-residence at the School of Media and Journalism, has taught as an adjunct professor at Kent State since 2006. She first arrived on campus in 1968 as a freshman, eager to seek out cheerleading programs and join a sorority. As a child of veterans, Canfora also considered joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to follow in her parents’ footsteps. Canfora described herself as a “groupie for democracy” while expressing her love for America’s free press and First Amendment values.
“It was students all over the campus at Kent State in 1968 that made me think about who I was in a much bigger world,” she said. Students for a Democratic Society, an activist group on campus, often intrigued Canfora.
“They were hippies. They wore bell bottoms, fringe jackets, they grew their hair long in defiance of the norm, but they were also so smart. They were always talking about the war in Vietnam and they were always talking about the unfairness of their generation being shipped off to war. Every time they handed me a leaflet, I just threw it away; however, every once in a while I would find myself stopping to listen to what they had to say. They seemed to know so much about the war in Vietnam, but what they were saying was unsettling to me,” she continued.
During the Vietnam War, American men ages 18 to 26 faced the possibility of being involuntarily drafted into military service. On Dec. 1, 1969, the United States held its first draft lottery, which gave young men a random number corresponding to their birthdays. Men with lower numbers were told to report to induction centers where they could be ordered into active duty and possibly sent to the Vietnam War. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, nearly two million men were drafted between 1964 and 1973.
Canfora, who had two brothers of draft age, watched on national television as capsules containing birth dates were pulled out of a large bowl during the draft lottery. Like many others, she did not agree with this action. “It was then that I not only stopped throwing away the leaflets, but I started to attend any meeting where people were talking about the war,” Canfora stated.
When President Richard Nixon announced to the country that U.S. troops were invading Cambodia on April 30, further escalating the war, Canfora reached a breaking point. Along with her brother, Alan Canfora, that weekend she attended protests, marched, and participated in demonstrations at various universities.
“I did not know as a 19-year-old angry college student that the real power we had as a generation of student activists was on Monday, May 4th.”
At universities all over the country, students planned to announce a national student strike at noon. “We were going to say that we’re not going to go to class. We’re not going to graduate. We’re not going to enter your corporations. We’re not going to work your jobs. We’re not going to contribute to your economy until you bring our friends home from Vietnam. And that’s when we got shot,” Canfora exclaimed.
Shortly before noon, around 3,000 students assembled on the commons to protest. The Ohio National Guardsmen who arrived days before, occupied the campus and monitored the growing crowd. The students were ordered to disperse, but they refused to leave. Canfora remembered seeing her brother walk towards the guardsmen waving a black flag. After noticing a guardsman aim his gun at Alan, she urged him to come back to the parking lot with her. Then, the guardsmen huddled and started moving back up Blanket Hill. The students began to cheer because they thought the confrontation was over.
“We thought we won, but we were wrong,” Canfora recalled.
Once the guardsmen reached the top of the hill, Troup G turned in unison and began firing. Many guardsmen reported firing into the air or the ground; however, some fired directly into the crowd.
Canfora asked the audience to set a timer for 13 seconds. When the timer began, the room fell quiet until the alarm went off. In that time on May 4th, the guardsmen fired 67 shots, killing four students and wounding nine, including her brother.
“Thirteen seconds is a horrifically long amount of time, to not just shoot, but continue shooting even as students are running in the other direction, even as students are diving to the ground, even as people are lying down bleeding and dying.”
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, student strikes and demonstrations erupted on hundreds of college campuses during the following weeks. On May 14, another on-campus shooting resulted in the deaths of two Black students and the wounding of 12 others at Jackson State University in Mississippi. These incidents created a surge in antiwar activism throughout the United States, bringing an end to the selective service draft and the Vietnam War.
In the 51 years since the May 4th shooting, Canfora has continued to share her truth, calling on others to do the same. “Students have traditionally been the conscience of America. You must never stop telling the truth because our country needs to learn the right lessons.”
“It is my hope that as the new generation emerging, you will find a way to rally together around the things that unite you, rather than the things that divide you,” she concluded.