Leaving Kent State Study Questions

The following questions are provided for use by book clubs and classrooms, or for anyone who would like to delve deeper into the America Rachel faced at the beginning of 1970.

1. The shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, shocked the American public at a time when civil unrest, protests, and even domestic terrorism were occurring on a regular basis. But despite that shock, the country was divided about whether the students or the National Guard were to blame. In what ways do you think people’s opinions were guided by the lens with which they came to the events of that weekend? Do you think whether someone was conservative or liberal would affect how they would interpret the events of that weekend? Why or why not?

2. Rachel talks about her art being her “voice.” How do you think people can and should use their artistic talents to effect social change? Should art be something that challenges us to evaluate our social norms and expectations?

3. Injustice is a major theme in LKS. In what ways do the injustices of the Vietnam War, both for Americans and Vietnamese, mimic the injustices that were occurring in the U.S. at the time?

4. President Nixon said after the shootings at KSU that tragedy is invited when dissent turns to violence. What do you think this means? Does violence by protesters at one level justify retaliation by law enforcement at another level? What should the rules of engagement be for law enforcement dealing with protesters?

5. Allison Krause had protested the Vietnam War before the weekend of May 4, 1970. The day before she was killed by the National Guard, Allison told a National Guard officer that flowers were “better than bullets.” Do you think she was being naïve? Is the use of lethal force against protesters ever warranted? If so, when? When, if ever, should a protester in a free country like the U.S.  believe that she is risking her life in order to protest? Were the students at KSU naïve in thinking that the National Guard wouldn’t shoot or would only shoot rubber bullets?

6. In many ways, the racial, social, and political unrest of 1969-1970 is very similar to problems we face in the U.S today. In what ways are these two time periods the same? How are they different? Were you surprised at the similarities between today and Rachel’s time period?

7. Does reading Rachel’s story make you feel differently about protests that are happening in our world today? If yes, how?

8. Do you think that what happened at KSU on May 4, 1970, could happen again in the U.S.? Or do you think that law enforcement would never repeat that kind of use of force again?

9. The KSU shootings occurred at a time when television was able to bring news fairly rapidly into American homes. Do you think how the shootings were reported initially affected people’s opinions on what had happened and who was to blame?

10. Fate is a motif throughout LKS. Find passages that discuss fate or destiny. How do you think the shootings at KSU were inevitable? How could they have been prevented? If the National Guard had not shot unarmed students that day, what do you think would have happened instead? Do you think the KSU shootings helped to end the Vietnam War? Did they change the way people thought and talked about protesting and dissent?

11. Rachel tells Evan that he’s a hero for risking his life for others, but he tells her it was the code they lived by, that it didn’t make him heroic. When he risks his life to save hers, she tells him again that he was heroic, but he again denies it, saying he did what he had to do to protect what was most important to him. Evan tells Rachel that she is heroic for forging ahead through uncertainty, and for always trying to help others without regard for herself. What does it mean to be heroic? Is Rachel heroic? Is Evan? What about the students who protested at KSU?