College in turmoil over Jane Fonda visit for anti-war protest anniversary

Graig Graziosi
Jane Fonda: 'It's my life I'm fighting for' (Rex Features): Rex Features

Kent State University won’t back down on its decision to bring Jane Fonda to speak during its 50-year commemoration of May 4, 1970.

On 4 May, 1970, the National Guard fired on students at Kent State University during an anti-war protest, killing four students and injuring one.

Ms Fonda was an outspoken anti-war activist at the time and became controversial for a photo of her perched atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun during a trip to Hanoi in 1972. Even today some people view her as traitorous for the photo and have called for the college to cancel her speech.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Kent State University responded to the criticism in a statement and made it clear it did not intend to cancel her appearance.

“We take to heart the painful feelings expressed by those for whom Fonda’s visit to Hanoi as a young activist in 1972 had a profound impact. We are equally moved by those who expressed their high regard for Fonda’s atonement after the incident and her lifelong activism in support of human rights and civil rights.”

“As the 50th Commemoration of May 4th approaches, we remain optimistic about the opportunity and responsibility we have to model for others the importance of reflecting on our past, learning from our mistakes and recognizing that tragedies borne of division have no place on a college campus or in a democracy,” the statement said.

The response comes after Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a statement calling for Kent State University to rescind its offer to have Ms Fonda speak.

“There is still time to right this wrong @Kentstate - rescind your invitation to @JaneFonda. The anniversary of this tragedy is not the time to pay a speaker who betrayed our service members,” Mr LaRose tweeted.

In a longer statement posted to his Facebook account, Mr LaRose suggested Ms Fonda was a traitor.

“What’s not ok is providing aid and comfort to the enemy and willfully serving as a propaganda tool for those engaged in hostilities against the United States. And Ms Fonda did that - the very definition of treason,” he wrote.

Mr LaRose - who spent a decade in the US Army - did not comment on whether considering the feelings of service memebrs was an appropriate reason to cancel a speaker commemorating the murder of four students by the US military.

Kent State University is paying Ms Fonda $83,000 for her speaking engagement.

Ms Fonda said she plans to speak on her reflections from that era, her life as an activist and the legacy of the Kent State shootings. She will speak on 3 May at the university.

The university is running special events from 1 May to 4 May and alongside Ms Fonda’s speech will feature panels, documentaries, other speakers and an annual candlelight march and silent vigil.