Although Kent State University junior Matthew Whiteside is a journalism major, this semester he has become something of a historian. He is currently taking the “May 4, 1970, and Its Aftermath” course, and decided to combine his passion for writing with his interest in the course to write on the May 4 blog.
We spoke to Whiteside from his campus home, and asked him about the course, his blog and his reactions to learning more about the 1970 shootings.
What inspired you to take this elective course?
“I’m from New Jersey, so when I told people I got accepted to Kent State University and made my decision to come here, the only thing people would recognize it by would be me saying that it was the school that had the shootings in the ’70s. It was the only time people would know about it, so I decided to take the course and find out more about it.”
Prior to starting class, what did you know about May 4, 1970?
“I knew the generic history, that it happened during the 1970s and the Vietnam era, and it was part of the college protest movement, but that was pretty much it. I’ve definitely learned a lot since taking the course, like about what’s involved. It’s almost like a conspiracy when you get into it. It’s almost as complicated as the JFK assassination.”
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
“Just that you’d think, 40 years later, with all the technology and forensics we’re discovering, that we’d have an answer as to why it happened or who did it. It’s surprising that we don’t know who did it, and it’s just amazing some of the things you read. We just read something about one of the guards, to cover up the shootings, planted some brass knuckles and a gun on Jeffrey Miller, the student in the famous picture. He did that in case a civil suit came out.”
Why did you participate in the May 4 blog?
“Being part of the journalism program, I figured it was something I could get into and get my name out there. I like to write, and so it filled that need. So far, everyone has been impressed with what they’re reading.”
What do you think your family and friends in New Jersey will take away from your blog after reading it?
“I would like to think it would open their eyes and think it was cool that I’m doing this. I hope they learn some historical aspects, not just that some kids got shot. There’s actually a ton involved in what happened, and there are so many sides. I hope people would learn something and it would maybe inspire them to do research and find out what happened, and not just people in New Jersey, but also people who read the blog in general.”
What will you do on the 40th anniversary of May 4, 1970?
“There are two different things (I’ll attend). From 12 p.m. until 2 p.m., there’s a commemoration and a symposium, and then later on that night, at the site of the shooting, there’s a symposium on democracy.”
Has the class been what you expected?
“When I was first talking to my adviser about it, it didn’t seem like a super hard class, and I was interested in it, too, so that was two things at once. But then after reading into (the shootings) and reading all these excerpts of people who were a part of it and injured, I definitely feel a connection to really wanting to know what happened. It’s unfortunate that we may not have answers for quite some time, but it feels good to be able to explain to someone when they say something inaccurate (regarding the shootings). I try to help them understand what was going on at the time.”
Does this increase your connection to your university?
“It does. I feel more a part of the university. Before when I walked past the site, I really didn’t know what it was. Where the four students were killed, they have these lampposts almost, in the parking lot by Taylor Hall. At first, I would just walk by and think, ‘What is with these random lampposts?’ It feels really good (that) the university is dedicating an actual site to it, so that it can get the recognition it deserves.”