Emerson College students taking a course on the Kent State massacre recently visited the Ohio school’s campus thanks to the generosity of Lee Schwebel ’90.
Communication Studies Chair Greg Payne teaches the seminar class The Killings at Kent State and Jackson State 1970: Lessons. The trip had been planned to commemorate May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on protesters, killing four and wounding nine unarmed students.
“Some people would say ‘Well, why are students interested in something that occurred 53 years ago?’ And I think for students what they see is that this is another school shooting, by the government in this case,” said Payne,.
“I definitely had a little bit of a skewed idea of what [Kent State] was when I went into the class,” said Soren Berman ‘23. “I didn’t really know anything about it. I knew the basics; I had always heard of it as a school shooting… but it’s a totally different shooting to what we see today. It was really government versus student versus what it means to have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
Payne has spent decades researching and teaching about Kent State. He wrote his dissertation on Kent State at the University of Illinois.
Emerson alumni Lee Schwebel ‘90, who took the same class with Payne and James Golden in 1990, fully sponsored the trip for the 12 students. That included their flights, hotel, and meals.
“I am immensely thankful for the generosity of Lee Schwebel… because of him, [the students] had a transformative experience that they will always treasure,” said Payne.
Schwebel, whose hometown is 40 minutes away from the Kent State campus, was featured on Payne’s podcast, Payne on Politics, to discuss his life at Emerson and beyond.
“I had been so affected by my own visit [to Kent State]… I invited all the students on a whim. I said, ‘You have to come, you have to see this,’” said Schwebel.
Schwebel is on an advisory board at the university, and was able to plan the trip for the students.
“The trip to Kent State felt like the proper climax to the course. We participated in the annual vigil for the shooting, in which we walked through the exact spots where the massacre we spent all semester learning about occurred,” said Misha Perez ’24.
During their trip the students met with several of the Kent State survivors.
“One remark that stuck out to me from one of the victims was how bizarre and earth-shattering the experience felt as a young American at the time – to have your own government shoot at you just to silence your voice,” said Perez.
“It weighs on you what actually happened here. The tragedy and the travesty. It’s really unbelievable that unarmed college students were shot at with bullets that killed four of them,” said Schwebel.