Let’s Get the Facts Right on ROTC

by Warner Sallman on April 29, 2011

As many of you know, I am gay and have been an active member of the pro-ROTC movement on campus. I am not ashamed to say that I was excited and proud of the Faculty Senate yesterday for its historic decision. Nevertheless, I recognize that there is a significant minority on campus that does not agree with my position.

Policy decisions in a democratic system are by definition an inclusive political process, and for them to function well, they should protect the civil rights of all minority groups so that their voices can be heard. Thus I support today’s protestors exercising their political rights in White Plaza. This is a healthy and necessary part of democracy, and I salute their willingness to continue to fight for their cause.

With that, I cannot condone the highly misleading statements that the so-called “Students for Justice” have recently sent out to Stanford email lists. The ROTC program is and has always been governed by all federal legislation that is applicable to the military, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the highly discriminatory law preventing gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from serving openly.

Since DADT’s repeal, the military has worked on a strategy to include gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members. While it has not been fully implemented, the legal obstacle has been completely cleared. Students of all sexual orientations will soon be able to join the military legally and reap full benefits from the ROTC program. The Faculty Senate rightly celebrated this accomplishment with their vote yesterday.

Unlike the restrictions that existed under DADT, transgendered individuals are not legally barred from joining the military. However, many times the required medical examination is used to prevent transgendered people from enlisting. This decision is at the discretion of the military and is often used unjustly.

Yet, transgendered recruits are not left entirely without options. There is a waiver system that transgendered people can use to bypass the medical restrictions. I admit that this can be a difficult process that would require legal assistance and often does not produce the result that we all would like to see. Certainly, discrimination within the military exists, just as it exists in practically every human institution. Can the armed forces do better? Is reform necessary? Absolutely. And I hope to soon see these despicable practices removed and new protections for all groups legally enacted.

It is precisely for this reason that paving the way for ROTC’s return to campus is both a smart and forward thinking decision. During yesterday’s Faculty Senate Debate, Former Secretary of Defense William Perry pointed to the leadership of Admiral Mike Mullen, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top military officials as a key factor in the repeal of DADT. He credited their educational backgrounds as a fundamental part of the their progressive stances today.

It is now time for Stanford University to educate and train the next generation of great military leaders who will fight injustice and help the process of reform progress within one of our society’s fundamental institutions.

Furthermore, I applaud the statements of Imani Franklin ’13, a student member of the Ad Hoc ROTC committee. She correctly identified a serious problem on our campus – a lack of student-military interaction. This civilian-military divide perpetuates misunderstanding and confusion on both sides. To combat this, bringing ROTC back will greatly facilitate an exchange of ideas and perspectives on campus. We cannot afford to allow our failure to understand the military and its role in society blind us from believing there is a spot for its existence on our campus.

Whatever your opinion, I urge you to seek out the accurate information in this ROTC debate. Do not be persuaded by inflammatory emails cajoling students into political stunts during a time when we should be cheering for the next generation of Stanford students. As the Faculty Senate has overwhelmingly affirmed, Stanford University believes in the principle of an open and welcoming community that can find a home for any student regardless of their identity and beliefs. For that, I commend its members and all students who seek to uphold this ideal.

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