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SUNY Plattsburgh Marks Kent, Jackson State Tragedies with Annual Ceremony

kent jackson state remembrance

A small group gathered May 10 by a memorial plaque at SUNY Plattsburgh to remember the tragedies that resulted in student deaths and injuries at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970.

“We’ve held this ceremony annually since the year after the tragedies. I believe we’re the only campus in the country that still does so,” said Steve Matthews, interim dean of students.

plaque kent and jackson stateOn May 4, 1970, four unarmed students were killed, and nine were injured on the Kent State campus in Ohio when National Guard troops fired into a crowd of students protesting the invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War.

Just 10 days later, at Jackson State in Mississippi, police trying to disperse a crowd of students protesting racism fired at young people gathered in front of a women’s dormitory, killing two students and injuring 12 others.

“Passersby at Jackson State University still today can see bullet holes in the women’s dorm that they have kept on campus so that people do not forget that history,” said Allison Heard, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I really do value every person who is here to commemorate that time because it shows that it doesn’t have to happen on our campus for it to still sit in our hearts.”

Heard urged attendees to reflect on the ceremony and return next year with a friend.

“If there was something that you learned here today or being here was significant for you, share it with one other person. Share it so they might be able to come back next year,” Heard said.

Heard said the media coverage of the Kent State shooting receive outweighed the Jackson State tragedy, which was unjust.

“No one life is less or more important than another.”

dietz tom kent stateTom Dietz was an undergraduate at Kent State in 1970. He travels from his home in Grand Isle, Vt. to SUNY Plattsburgh for the ceremony most years, except the years he returns to Kent State to reflect on what happened there.

“This is a way of both commemorating those who were killed and wounded at Kent State and my saying to SUNY Plattsburgh on behalf of the Kent community, thank you,” Dietz said.

While he heard the shots that day, Dietz said he wasn’t in the crowd of students fired upon, although some of his friends were.

“I remember the shock and the horror when we realized what had happened, and then the entire campus was evacuated.”

Describing a sequence of events that led up to the shooting, Dietz said he spoke at a rally on May 1 to promote a day-long environmental teach-in he and others had planned for May 6 in honor of the first Earth Day, which happened in April of that year.

“I spoke at the rally protesting the invasion of Cambodia, saying the war in Vietnam was being fought in no small part on the environment, destroying the environment of the Vietnamese people. The environmental movement and the antiwar movement are really to facets of the same thing.”

group at kent jackson state memorialFor many years, Kent State University administration didn’t hold formal commemorations, Dietz said. It was student groups who held ceremonies.

“That’s one of the reasons what you do here is so sacred because you remember even when we couldn’t get our own university administration to remember for many years,” Dietz said.

Luckily that’s changed now, and the university has a dedicated visitor’s center that holds programs and archival materials, he said.

Gabrielle Sulca, a first-year early childhood education/special education major from Lyon Mountain, said she wasn’t aware of the events before attending the ceremony.

“It’s a tragic thing that happened, and it should be remembered,” Sulca said.

— Story, photos by Assistant Director of Communications Felicia Krieg

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