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Op-Ed: ROTC – A Call for Inclusion

On the topic of ROTC, our campus is divided.  It is apparent with the emails on list serves, flyers, rallies, petitions, opinion editorials and conversations in our classes and dorms. At the ROTC town hall in January, it was clear that the two-hour discussion was more than just an intellectual debate — for many this was personal. In the final phases of this discussion leading up to the Faculty Senate presentation by the ROTC Ad Hoc Committee on May 12th, we must move forward as a community with an unprecedented level of sensitivity in our discourse, because the decision on ROTC will inevitably end up hurting part of our Stanford family.

As student body president, it has been nearly impossible to represent a unified student position about the possible reinstatement of ROTC at Stanford. This is what led me to propose the non-binding referendum on the annual ASSU ballot: “Advisory Question A” asks you to state your stance on ROTC’s potential reinstatement. I offer my personal stance to contribute to the dialogue and to push our collective and individual thinking on this issue. While I firmly believe in the power of citizens and the role of engagement in democratic societies, I also believe that it is the role of elected officials to represent marginalized communities. To this point, I affirm my support and gratitude for our veterans and ROTC cadets; I also affirm my alliance and support of transgender students and their rights. Support for both of these groups is not and should not be mutually exclusive. One can be anti-discrimination without being anti-military.

I come from Sparks, Nevada, a town located just over an hour away from Fallon Air Force base. Many friends from my hometown have honorably decided to join the military; my step-dad is a veteran. I am personally considering joining our military after I serve in Teach for America for two years. I fully support the individuals in our military, and I am concerned to know that some of the current ROTC cadets and veterans on campus have at times faced anti-militaristic sentiment. At the town hall, one veteran spoke of the scornful looks he receives every time he wears his uniform on campus. Many of these students have told me that not bringing back ROTC would heighten their feelings of isolation at Stanford. Particularly when our student veterans have just returned from active duty and are transitioning, it is absolutely crucial that these individuals feel a sense of belonging on the Farm. To this end, I believe more must be done. The establishment of Military 101 at the Haas Center for Public Service is one step in the right direction, but we must do more to ensure these members of our community are respected and supported. One idea is the formation of a military community center, an idea that I hope next year’s ASSU leaders will drive forward.

Ultimately, as a community, we must come together to find a solution that ensures the well-being of all students at Stanford. We must support the military students on our campus individually and collectively — but doing so by bringing back the institution of ROTC in its current form would harm our transgender community.

As military policy currently stands, transgender students are not allowed to serve in the ROTC. Transgender students, allies, the Undergraduate Senate and I believe that bringing back the ROTC violates Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy, namely the part that reads, “Stanford University admits qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the University.”

Many counter arguments state that the nondiscrimination policy prohibits unlawful discrimination, and the military is within the bounds of law to discriminate against transgender individuals. I don’t want this discourse to be lost in the trenches of technicality, especially because as history reveals, being legal does not make something right. Moreover, at the heart of the nondiscrimination policy is a value and principle that Stanford holds true: that every student will have equal access to the opportunities at our university. Institutionally recognizing and financially backing an organization that does not allow all of our students equal access goes against this core principle.

Many agree that transgender individuals should be afforded the opportunity to serve in the ROTC at Stanford. Another disagreement comes with how we most effectively and efficiently reach that objective in the future. Recent precedent with the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy shows that, in the case of military discrimination, demanding a change before allowing the institution to return to campus is one strong lever, amongst others, to changing discriminatory policies. We must also write to and call our Congressional leaders demanding this change. In conjunction with this opinion editorial, I have sent a handful of letters to U.S. legislators and to the President urging them to change military policy to allow equally qualified transgender individuals to serve.

We, the Stanford community, all have a stake in upholding the non-discrimination policy and a mutual investment in diversity and inclusion. On the basis of equality, I cannot support the institutional establishment of ROTC until it allows involvement by all of our students. Once this change is made, I will enthusiastically welcome the return of ROTC to Stanford University.

I realize that my views do not reflect those of the entire student body, and I welcome and encourage agreement and disagreement alike: [email protected] Although I hold these views personally, I pledge to convey the entire spectrum of opinions to the Ad Hoc Committee. You can also send your opinions directly to the ROTC Ad Hoc Committee ([email protected]) who will be making the official recommendation to the Faculty Senate on May 12th.

I strongly encourage the continued dialogue on this topic as the recommendation of the ROTC Ad Hoc committee nears, and I hope the level of civility and acceptance expected of us as Stanford citizens is upheld as we move forward in the final stages of this decision.

 

Angelina Cardona ’11, ASSU President

 

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