History Department


History 303: Research and Writing Seminar in History


Andrew Morris


Following President Nixon’s announcement of the US military’s incursion into Cambodia, an eruption of innumerable student protests occurred all throughout colleges and universities across the United States in May 1970. The measure of violence displayed at these demonstrations, however, undoubtedly varied due to disparate surroundings and events specific to the atmosphere of these colleges. Evaluating the many contrasting occurrences that took place at different universities validates how the combined extensive preparation of the university’s president and administration have a beneficial effect on the level of violence shown at a protest on a college campus. With much preparation and steps taken towards preventative measures, President Robert E. Kennedy of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo “through foresight and planning insured that no one’s right of free speech was abridged and that no one overstepped the bounds of proper conduct in a free society.” The events at Kent State in Kent, Ohio proceeded otherwise. Under the presidency of Robert White, Kent State experienced four days of intense protest—resulting in the shooting of four students in addition to leaving nine students brutally injured on May 4, 1970. This paper will thoroughly compare Cal Poly’s administration to the administration of Kent State—predominantly focusing in on each staffs’ intentions regarding preparation for protests taking place during a critical moment. Taking a deeper glimpse into Robert E. Kennedy as a president and leader of Cal Poly’s campus, this paper will allow us to understand his capability of managing a protest that, as he put it in a memorandum to campus staff, “could easily have ignited into an unruly mob with violent action resulting in injury to people and damage to property.”2 Recognizing that this protest could have undeniably resulted in a similar outcome to that of Kent State, this paper will investigate the specific precautions and approaches that were taken to assure its peaceful conclusion. Additionally, this research will focus on the administrations and the presidencies of both Kent State and Cal Poly—exploring their similarities and differences.