The Mason Spirit: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of George Mason University

Mason Memories

Four Dead in Ohio

People often say that George Mason University is a conservative campus, but I have some memo- ries to the contrary. The most outstanding memory was of a day in early May 1970. The Ohio National Guard had been dispensed to Kent State University where they shot four students dead.

Those shots were heard loud at George Mason College. We were outraged. All reports told that the students had been engaged in peaceful demonstrations against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Some even held flowers. They placed daisies on and around the guns held by frightened young National Guardsmen who probably didn't want to be there any more than the students wanted them there. But the peacekeeping went terribly wrong. Shots were fired. Four dead in Ohio. The next day was most certainly not business as usual at George Mason.

On spring days, we gathered in the Quadrangle—the grassy area between the North, South, East, and West buildings. That was really all there was of the campus back then. That day, we talked a long time about the shooting at Kent State. We decided we had to show support and sympathy for our fellow students. The American flag would not be flown at full staff that day.

We sent a formal request that the flag be lowered, but the administration turned us down. We marched to the front of the North Building where the campus police—more nice young men—were about to run the flag up the pole as they did every day. But not today. We circled the flagpole. We held hands. There was some shoving. We gripped each other's wrists tighter. A student representative went to the chancellor and convinced him to lower the flag.

On the Quadrangle, somebody brought a bullhorn, and we passed it around and addressed the crowd. I reached for the bullhorn at one point and took the opportunity to talk about what was then a brand new and politically very unpopular idea: feminism. I had been struck with the symmetry of the Kent State massacre—two young men dead, two young women dead. In this instance, women were on the front lines. We were not a protected class, not by anybody's definition.

I heard laughter from the crowd, but it didn't faze me. I knew that the new wave of feminism was about to splash over the culture and those who laughed and trivialized what was called women's lib that day would have to pay close attention soon. And I was right.

But those Mason memories of feminism are for another day. This piece is about those four young students who died at Kent State. They would be in their 50s by now, probably just getting home from work and greeting their kids. Glancing through the mail. Maybe looking at their alumni magazine. May 4 still always brings a chill to my spine.

Bonnie Atwood started attending George Mason in 1965 when it was still a college of the University of Virginia. She graduated in 1974 with a B.A. in psychology. She now lives in Richmond where she works as a lobbyist for David Bailey Associates.


Do you fondly remember certain places within the George Mason community that exemplified the “college experience”? Were you befriended by a mentor or professor at George Mason who influenced your life? If so, tell us about it. Send your submission to Alumni Affairs, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3B3, Fairfax, VA 22030. Please keep submissions to a maximum of 500 words.