By Dana Edwards
Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) started an online petition last week to gain student support for efforts to block the reintroduction of ROTC to campus. The petition had gathered 116 signatures at the time of publication.
A formal letter to the Faculty Senate headlined the petition, outlining SSQL’s objection to ROTC on the grounds that the military continues to discriminate against transgender students. In the letter, SSQL argued that the return of ROTC would “constitute a violation of our very own nondiscrimination policy,” a policy that prohibits exclusion from campus programs and activities on the basis of gender identity.
Last year, the Faculty Senate formed the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC and tasked it to investigate the potential return of the military to Stanford. The SSQL letter called for the Faculty Senate to “remain at status quo and declare support for transgender students’ identity.”
Mario Villaplana ’14 and Alok Vaid-Menon ’13, both active members of SSQL, authored the letter.
Though other campus groups such as National Marriage Boycott (NMB) endorsed the petition, SSQL is chiefly responsible for its rhetoric and for rallying students in support of its cause.
“We’re building momentum on this issue, trying to reach out to concerned groups and students,” said SSQL leader Janani Balasubramanian ’12. “This affects all of us who are invested in the maintenance of the non-discrimination clause.”
On the other side of the issue, a pro-ROTC coalition of students is contemplating authoring a counter-petition, but nothing official is currently circulating. Recent weeks have seen a surge in the number of people advocating for the military’s return to Stanford, including an endorsement from Professor Condoleezza Rice and Hoover fellow George Shultz, both of who are former Secretaries of State.
Some proponents of ROTC groups argue that barring transgender people from military service does not clearly violate Stanford’s non-discrimination clause. They claim that the clause only protects against unlawful discrimination, and that ROTC’s policy is by definition lawful.
Balasubramanian responded to these claims by stating that legality often comes down to a matter of semantics.
“It depends on which law you’re privileging,” Balasubramanian said. “We think that a reintroduction of ROTC would not be aligned with the way that Stanford has protected gender identity in the past, for instance in their efforts to provide sensitive housing and health care to all members of the community.”
Balasubramanian hopes SSQL’s petition, which confirms signers’ Stanford affiliation by requiring e-mail addresses, will help sway the Faculty Senate as the University decides whether or not to reinstate ROTC. Balasubramanian and Villaplana both said the ad hoc committee has been unclear regarding the date of the announcement and the degree to which it will take into account popular student opinion.