Kathy Stafford, Oral History
Recorded: June 10, 2008
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Kristin Cole
[Interviewer]: Good afternoon. The date is June 10th, 2008, and my name is Craig Simpson. We are conducting an oral history interview today for the May 4 Oral History Project, and could you please state your name?
[Kathy Stafford]: My name is Kathy Stafford.
[Interviewer]: Where were you born?
[Kathy Stafford]: I was born in Troy, Ohio.
[Interviewer]: What years did you attend KSU as a student?
[Kathy Stafford]: I was a student here from 1966 to 1970.
[Interviewer]: So you were a senior in 1970?
[Kathy Stafford]: I was a senior, right.
[Interviewer]: What made you decide to come to Kent State?
[Kathy Stafford]: Well, I was from a small town in southwestern Ohio, and I needed to come to a state school for financial reasons. All of my friends were going either to Bowling Green or Miami (Ohio). I didn't want to go where everybody else was going. I thought Ohio State was too big, and my high school government teacher told me that Kent State had an excellent political science department, and that's what I was interested in, so I came to Kent State.
[Interviewer]: Was political science your major when you were here?
[Kathy Stafford]: Yes.
[Interviewer]: How would you describe the campus prior to the events of 1970?
[Kathy Stafford]: It was a typical, wonderful college campus just like it is today. In fact, I often take a walk around campus and in many ways it looks just like it did in the late 1960s. It was a very pretty residential state university campus.
[Interviewer]: Did you find that the mood among the student body had changed in those years that you were a student at Kent State?
[Kathy Stafford]: From when I started to when I left?
[Kathy Stafford]: Well, it was the late 60s, so even when I started, it was a very interesting time in the United States and therefore on college campuses. But, yeah, it did actually change because we went through a period in the early years that I was here of great racial tensions, and then moved more into the anti-war sort of arena, so it did change from that perspective. But it was a tumultuous time, any way you looked at it, in the late 60s.
[Interviewer]: What memories do you have of those four days in May, and you can start wherever you like. Some people start on the day itself and other people begin during the weekend beforehand.
[Kathy Stafford]: Well, I wasn't here in town on the weekend. I had chosen that weekend to go visit my parents, so I was away from campus and came back on Sunday evening. And so I just learned of what had been happening over the weekend when I got back on Sunday night. I was at my apartment then. I lived off-campus with several other students on Franklin Avenue, and we were at our apartment Monday morning when the shootings occurred. But we knew something tragic had happened because the National Guard trucks came down the street--Franklin Avenue--with the Guardsmen in the back of the truck with their guns pointed at us, and so we knew that something had happened, and shortly thereafter were all told that we needed to leave campus and get out of town. So I didn't know very much about what had actually happened until a day or so later.
We all proceeded to get out of town. Since I had been home that weekend I didn't want to turn around and go back home, and so I actually hitched a ride to New York City where I had some friends living and visited them. They happened to live in the Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue. And I remember this like it was yesterday, but I was riding up in the elevator in the Sheraton Hotel with a Kent State tee-shirt on, and some people got in the elevator, and I thought I was going to be attacked. They saw my Kent State tee-shirt and started reacting in a very hostile fashion about the Kent State shootings, and [told us] we were all a bunch of rabble rousers and we deserved to die and that kind of thing. So it was quite a rude awakening for me. I was a fairly conservative student. Fairly naive. And I didn't think we had done anything wrong. It was a tragic set of circumstances. So that was quite an interesting experience that I had after the shootings.
Then while I was in New York, I was called--tracked down--by some of the administrators at Kent State and invited to be, or asked to be, a member of the President's -- what we called the President's Commission on Violence, and it was a group made up of some administrators, some faculty members, and two students, and we were asked to come back to campus and go through everything that happened and try to make some sense out of what happened and write a report about it. So--
[Interviewer]: Why were you selected to this committee?
[Kathy Stafford]: Well, I had been active in student government. I was in the Student Senate and I had been on an advisory committee to the vice president for--I forget what his title was back then, but sort of my position now, pretty much. And so I was fairly well known because of the involvement that I had had. I assume that's the reason that I was invited to be a member.
[Interviewer]: Right. We actually have this collection up in our department, and--
[Kathy Stafford]: Do you?
[Interviewer]: Tell me about your experiences on the committee.
[Kathy Stafford]: Well, of course, it was an unbelievable experience. I mean, we spent, we came back to campus, I came back and lived in the same apartment, and we spent every day for six weeks taking testimony and going through whatever materials, documents there were, but trying to just learn what had happened from the minute like Thursday night [April 30, 1970] or Friday morning [May 1, 1970] and all through the weekend and then through the day on Monday [May 4, 1970], so it was a very intense time, and interesting.
[Interviewer]: What was the time frame that you were on the committee?
[Kathy Stafford]: It was about six weeks, I believe, as I recall.
[Interviewer]: And it started in the summer or when you returned to school?
[Kathy Stafford]: No, it started in the summer, right. It was actually--back then we were on quarters, and so the shootings happened May 4th. We actually had graduation sometime in the middle of June. And so it was from a period of May--I don't know--7th, 8th, 9th, sometime the next week up until graduation or near there. So it was for about six weeks after the shootings.
[Interviewer]: What were the objectives of the committee?
[Kathy Stafford]: I'm not sure I know exactly. It was just to try to understand what had happened and have some record of it.
[Interviewer]: And were you, who did you file the report to? To the president [of the university] or to--?
[Kathy Stafford]: I think it was supposed to be filed to the president, but I don't believe there was ever a report formally given to anybody. We had, as a committee, some problems coming to a consensus on what should be in the written report. We actually had a minority report that was developed, and I have a copy of it. I don't have a copy of any of the--of a full report, which is one reason I don't think there was one. But I do have a copy of the minority report that was written by the author of the minority report was one of the professors on the committee, Doris Franklin, but several of us participated as a part of that minority group that had some different feelings.
[Interviewer]: And you were one of the people who was on the minority report?
[Kathy Stafford]: Mm-hmm.
[Interviewer]: What were the--I know this is a long time ago.
[Kathy Stafford]: Yeah, I can't, I really, I'm sorry I can't.
[Interviewer]: That's okay.
[Kathy Stafford]: I can't give you any of the specifics now.
[Interviewer]: Just backing up a little bit, you mentioned that were at home at your parents over the weekend of May 4. Had you heard about anything that had happened before you returned to campus that Sunday?
[Kathy Stafford]: Not that I recall, no. I only heard about it once I got back to campus.
[Interviewer]: And what were your impressions when you came back on Sunday? What do you remember?
[Kathy Stafford]: That it was a serious situation, and trouble. It was regretful that we were in the situation that we were in.
[Interviewer]: Right. And you said that Monday you were off campus at the time?
[Kathy Stafford]: Yeah, at the--I had worked really hard for four years so that my last quarter I could have a light load and really enjoy the end of my college career, so I only had two classes and they were on Tuesday and Thursday. So I didn't have any classes on Monday morning, and therefore, I wasn't actually on campus.
[Interviewer]: And did you take, how did you finish your classes that summer after--?
[Kathy Stafford]: That's another very interesting thing that I think Kent State should be so proud of, was the way our community came together and helped everybody get through that time--and especially the seniors, which I was one. All of our professors did everything they could to get us all through what we needed to get through so that we could graduate. So, in my case, I was here, so I had some interaction with the professors in my two classes and was able to finish whatever I needed to do that last month. But I know others of my classmates did it by mail or on the phone with professors, but the professorship here during that time, I think, was magnificent in stepping up to help us and so we were able to have graduation.
A lot of people think that once the campus closed down, everybody left and never came back and that we didn't have graduation. But we did, and I think it was very important for those of us who were graduating to have that closure. Otherwise, it would have been a terrible thing, I think, so I really appreciate the efforts that were put in to letting us do that or having graudation. We didn't have an outside speaker. President White gave the commencement address, and as you might imagine, it was an extremely solemn occasion, but at least it gave us closure.
[Interviewer]: And this was in June?
[Kathy Stafford]: This was in June, right.
[Interviewer]: What two classes did you have to finish?
[Kathy Stafford]: One of them was statistics, and I can't remember what the other one was. I'd have to look at my college transcript to tell you that.
[Interviewer]: And having been here for so long, did you immediately work at Kent State afterward?
[Kathy Stafford]: No, my--the beginning of my career that summer was in Columbus as a budget analyst in the Department of Finance of the State of Ohio.
[Interviewer]: Oh, okay.
[Kathy Stafford]: And after a couple of years I moved into higher education and spent the first fifteen years of my career at the central level of higher education. But I''ve only been at Kent for five years. I came back after a long career in higher education at other places.
[Interviewer]: How successful do you think Kent State has been in coming to terms with these events over the years?
[Kathy Stafford]: I think it was hard in the beginning. But I think we've become very successful. And now, as you might know, we're going to be developing a Visitor's Center up at the site which will allow people to come and have a lot better understanding and view of what happened. We did the Memorial, which I think is a magnificent thing. I think we've come a long way, and I think now we view it as a part of our history that we acknowledge and that we need to have the rest of the world understand with us.
[Interviewer]: What do you think the consequences were of the shootings?
[Kathy Stafford]: I personally think they had a great deal to do with ending the war eventually. I think it was a significant part of that historic period and it did make a difference.
[Interviewer]: Are there any more thoughts you would like to share?
[Kathy Stafford]: No, I'm grateful that I had the experience of being on the Commission. It really affected my life, going through all of those details. It kind of soured me a little bit on politics. I felt strongly that Governor Rhodes brought in the National Guard as a political manuever, trying to win an election, and showing up as the strong, take-control kind of poltiician when he could have just as easily brought in the Highway Patrol squad that was specifically trained to handle campus unrest. So that made a big impression on me and affected my feelings about politics for a good long time, even as a poltical science major. But it was an incredible experience and I'm glad to have had it. Not glad that we had the tragedy.
[Interviewer]: Kathy, thank you very much for speaking with me.
[Kathy Stafford]: Quite welcome.