Widgets Magazine

Students discuss discrimination, military-civilian divide at ROTC town hall

More than 50 people attended a town hall meeting at Stanford on Tuesday night to debate the possible return of ROTC to campus, the largest such gathering since the Faculty Senate opened the question last spring.

Members of the Senate’s ad hoc committee investigating the matter, ROTC cadets and other student-group representatives attended the event, which ASSU helped organize.

Students attend the ROTC Town Hall Tuesday to debate the return of ROTC to Stanford (Ian Garcia-Doty/Staff Photographer).

Sam Windley, a law student and president of Stanford Says No to War, opened discussion by presenting the group’s two main arguments against the return of the military program to Stanford: that ROTC defies the right to free academic exploration and that the program violates Stanford’s anti-discrimination policy.

Some students and committee members saw the recently repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as contrary to Stanford’s principles and considered it a barrier to the program’s return. Now, some students argue ROTC on campus would still violate Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy by prohibiting transgender students from participating.

“I think it is egregious for us to be sitting here to be discussing the philosophy of ROTC when it is antithetical to Stanford’s nondiscrimination clause,” said Alok Vaid-Menon ‘13, president of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL).

Psychology professor Ewart Thomas, the committee chair, told The Daily after the event that discrimination against transgender people was an issue on which he felt “vulnerable.” He said the debate gave the committee more information to consider.

Lindsay Funk ’13 echoed concerns about continuing discrimination.

“The University has brought groups in line on religious issues with the non-discrimination policy,” she added. “It seems to be making exceptions for the military.”

Proponents for the return of ROTC to campus cited a growing military-civilian divide. Some said an ROTC presence on campus would encourage dialogue and education about the military, steer more Stanford-educated people toward military leadership and maybe even effect change regarding the military’s transgender policy.

Samora Garling ’12 said ROTC should be allowed to return to campus, regardless of negative feelings toward the program.

“This is the same campus that allowed the Westboro Church to come here for a day,” he said, referring to the radical group’s stop on campus last February. “I don’t necessarily agree with every group on this campus or what they stand for, but they definitely all have a place here.”

The University removed ROTC programs from campus in the late 1960s and early 1970s following concerns about their academic credibility, a subject sporadically discussed throughout the evening. Program supporters said if military-science courses required for ROTC cadets were held on campus, they would be open to all Stanford students.

Imani Franklin ’13, a committee member, asked current ROTC cadets whether they would feel uncomfortable on campus if the program returned while part of the community continued to oppose it.

“One of the reasons I came to Stanford was to try to expose myself as an undergraduate to other majors,” said Jimmy Ruck ’11, who is a cadet in the Army ROTC program.

“The military is missing out on getting influence from Stanford,” he added, “because it goes both ways — not only am I exposed to students [unaware of the military], they’re also exposed to me. Some people are ignorant, and I see myself educating them on what ROTC does.”

“I’m not dissatisfied with tonight,” Windley said after the event. “There’s a really strong case for the military as an occupational choice, and it’s good for Stanford students to do. But how Stanford University treats different occupational choices is the issue.”

Thomas said that overall, the debate was “beautiful.”

“My only wish is that the people in Washington adhere to the same political discourse that I’ve seen here tonight,” said David Spiegel, psychiatry professor and chair of the Faculty Senate. “I’ve never been more proud.”

A faculty and staff discussion with the committee about ROTC is set for Thursday at 4 p.m. in Encina.