Let’s Get the Facts Right on ROTC

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.

  • Eduardo Cepeda

    Thank you for writing this. I saw so many emails going out and people were instantly deciding to protest without even learning more. It’s critical that we gather all the facts before taking action.

  • Adam

    Thank you, Warner.

  • LT

    Yeah, thanks for writing this Warner. You fully demonstrate the cognitive dissonance of those who claim affiliation with the LGBT community but only care about the rights of the LGB.

    You spend two whole paragraphs acknowledging the terrible injustice of discrimination, but manage to justify this as a mere stumbling block that exists in “every human institution.” It’s okay because everyone does it! Lovely.

    I also find it interesting that you believe Students For Justice is somehow being misleading. What untruths are the SFJ perpetuating? Congress’s repeal of DADT still hasn’t been implemented in the military. Trans people are pathologized and discriminated against by the military. Just because these facts don’t fit into you rose-tinted view (one which conveniently ignores several transphobic remarks from yesterday from the very “leadership” that is supposed to make the military more inclusive) doesn’t make them untrue.

    Honestly, I’m not quite sure how you managed to be excited yesterday as your trans classmates and their allies cried outside the law school over the dismissal of their rights. But as you said, “Students of all sexual orientations will soon be able to join the military legally and reap full benefits from the ROTC program.” The LGB students are the only ones that matter. Thanks, Warner. Enjoy your celebration.

  • Marloes

    I’m sorry that this has turned into an issue of trans rights v. military service members in the first place since that’s simply not an accurate depiction of this issue, as you point out nicely Warner. I know that the way this debate has been set up as such has hurt transgender students on campus.

    @LT, I can only speak for myself and not Warner but as a member of the LGB community (and I like to think the LGBT community) I would still agree with Warner’s statement and support the return of ROTC if roles were reversed and the military were to make me rather than trans students jump through hoops to be able to serve. It’s never productive to paint such a black and white picture of “justice.” I’d really love to see “Students for Justice” address some of the counter arguments and nuances of this debate.

    Also I believe the untruths Warner refers to are the suggestions that transgender people cannot under any circumstances join the military based solely on their identity.

  • Patrick Benitez

    As the Faculty Senate has overwhelmingly affirmed, Stanford University **DOES NOT** believe in the principle of an open and welcoming community that can find a home for any student regardless of their identity.

    Until DADT’s repeal is implemented, the ROTC program explicitly excludes transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual students from applying for ROTC scholarships and attending certain classes. Full stop. At the least, ROTC’s invitation to return is premature. Moreover, the military’s code of conduct leaves trans people open to dishonorable discharge, regardless of DADT. The Faculty Senate, whatever its dubious justifications, is complicit in this discrimination against queer people. As gay men, I demand that we, Warner & Patrick, stand in solidarity: anti-queer bias is NEVER acceptable, and neither is Stanford’s collaboration.

  • Sarah

    I am not sure what statements have been misleading, and I am not sure why this has been difficult to grasp.

    1) Discrimination is deplorable. (Well, I suppose it’s POSSIBLE to disagree with that statement.)
    2) “discrimination within the military exists”
    3) Stanford has a non-discrimination policy.
    4) The military is a discriminatory institution, therefore having it here violates Stanford’s non-discrimination policy.

    So, it is true that trans students can join the military if they remain in the closet. If that’s not an issue, why did anyone bother with repealing DADT? And we have to remember that this isn’t just about joining the military – this is about getting discharged solely on the basis of identity, this about about the rights associated with veteran’s status, this is about equal opportunity on this campus. Also, your statement “transgendered individuals are not legally barred from joining the military” is pointless – if you were trans and out, you would either get in temporarily and get immediately discharged and then turned away, so there I suppose they can reach step 0.9 of the process, but that’s hardly anything less than a barrier from joining.

    “He credited their educational backgrounds as a fundamental part of the their progressive stances today.” So just in this post and this thread we have students who are perfectly willing to accept the presence of discrimination on their campus or in the world without really putting up any sort of fight. Is that a “progressive stance” that is going to change the military? What about the transphobic comments of the faculty senate – are those faculty members providing “progressive” educational backgrounds to Stanford students? We just violated our own non-discrimination policy for the sake of returning ROTC to this campus. Is that the kind of progressive leadership we are providing to the military? We should deplore and disallow discrimination, NOT endorse it – no matter what.

    “This civilian-military divide perpetuates misunderstanding and confusion on both sides.” The civilian-military divide exists because the civilians rarely agree with what the military is doing – going to war, discriminating, indoctrinating, or even spending $6 BILLION dollars on a single air craft carrier. There are thousands of avenues for learning about the military without an ROTC presence on this campus. We already have ROTC students here – are you saying that they do not have the agency to aid in bridging the so-called civilian-military gap? Having ROTC on this campus creates an asterisk on our non-discrimination policy, which effects all students. And we are willing to do that for the fifty to one hundred students who will end up taking classes from the ROTC program? And we are to think that those students, who clearly already have some interest in the military, won’t seek out an avenue to learn more about the military anyway?

    “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.”

    Speaking of “accurate information,” it’s time to educate yourself. The Faculty Senate just voted that transgender students aren’t important enough to be protected. The SAFE AND OPEN SPACES coordinator just stated that transgender students aren’t important enough to be protected. Some members of the LGB community have stated that transgender students aren’t important enough to be protected. Please enlighten me: how is that “an open and welcoming community that can find a home for any student regardless of their identity and beliefs”?

  • Moya


    In your article, you suggest that our transgender peers should take comfort in the idea that they are “not left entirely without options.” (Just for future reference, the term “transgender” is more appropriate than “transgendered.”) In particular, you propose that by avoiding medical exams and remaining perfectly closeted, transgender people might effectively trick the military into accepting them.

    I’d just like to remind you that gays, lesbians and bisexuals were similarly “free” to serve under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. For that matter, we were even “free” to serve when homosexuals were explicitly banned from the military. But closeted military service came with costs: the constant denial of our relationships and identities, the inescapable threat of getting outed, and the knowledge that we were officially considered inferior to our fellow service members. If we condemn such treatment for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, then why should we accept it for transgender people?

    As a woman of color, I couldn’t help imagining how your reasoning might apply to issues of racial justice. Consider, for example, the idea of segregated public transportation. The policy of forcing black people to sit in the back was explicitly designed to reinforce, socially and psychologically, our status as inferiors. Is it “good enough” that we were allowed to ride? I think not.

    Warner, the dangerous and humiliating “option” that you offer our transgender peers is the *very definition* of second-class citizenship. I cannot take any comfort in it.

  • Moya


    Why do you assume that the protesters were uninformed? Personally, I have been intensely engaged with this issue for months. Same goes for many of my fellow activists and protesters. We were able to mobilize quickly is because we already knew the debate inside and out.

    Don’t let complexity become an excuse for inaction.

  • LT


    I suppose that is where we differ on a fundamental level. I’m a “moral relativist” on quite a few topics but identity-based discrimination is a *very* black-and-white issue for me. I don’t think its justifiable for any employer, military or otherwise, to dismiss an employee due to an immutable or protected aspect of their identity. If the roles were reversed, I would certainly still be fighting this.

    For this reason, these opinion pieces come off as incredibly disingenuous to me. First, we’re led to believe that non-discrimination is “too high a standard” to set for this institution, implying that adjusting military policy is some difficult task (which it will be). Suddenly, it’s a quick logical 180 and we’re reassured that once the military gets here, we’re going to influence the military to change all their discriminatory policies because “it’s Stanford,” or something.

    Can you at least understand why it’s hard to stomach rhetoric coming from members and supposed allies of the community? I mean, imagine if Warner had written: “As many of you know, I am gay and have been an active member of the pro-Prop 8 movement on campus. I am not ashamed to say that I was excited and proud of the California electorate for its historic decision.” If you were as anti-Prop 8 as I was, wouldn’t this statement be unfathomable to you?

    Finally, if both Warner and yourself are interested in “productive” discussions, framing Students for Justice as some kind of “misleading” and “inflammatory” group is not helping. Disagreeing with us is one thing, but pandering to Review-friendly anti-activist tropes are another thing entirely. If you (and Warner, among others) actually believe your own argument that Stanford mojo will clean up the military, then shouldn’t you be working with us to fulfill your own prophecy? The administration has already proven itself capable of disregarding student’s rights. We’re trying to make sure it won’t happen again.

  • KN

    Warner, did you support ROTC’s return before DADT was repealed? By your (and many others’) logic, we should have let ROTC return a long time ago, with the purpose that we send more cadets into the military and hopefully DADT would be repealed. Since you are applying this logic to the trans policy issue, I can only assume that you supported ROTC’s return to campus when it still discriminated against LGB via DADT.

    When a potential policy affecting ALL of us LGBT members was a possibility, like prop 8, everyone in the LGBT community came together to fight it. But now that trans people are asking the community to fight for their rights (now that we’ve all been afforded the same ones, a true victory for us), you–among other members of the LGB community–turned your back on them. I would think that a gay person would be most sympathetic, given that they know what it’s like to be marginalized, to be told that they are not worthy of certain rights, to be considered a second-class citizen. But it seems that some gay people forget that as soon as they get those rights.

    One chilling parallel between prop 8 and this issue is the idea of an inferior alternative. You say that trans people can still join the military (with many difficult conditions); others have pointed out that trans people can still take ROTC classes (but of course, are not entitled to the scholarships, etc.). That sounds a lot like the inferior alternative of “civil unions” — in both cases, the argument is essentially, “We are denying you this on a petty basis; but it’s okay, here’s something else that you might like.” It is unfair, plain and simple.

  • Nit-picky Law student


    As I’ve demonstrated in these pages before, a plain reading of Stanford’s non-discrimination policy shows that ROTC does not violate the non-discrimination policy. Stanford’s general counsel Debra Zumwalt has confirmed same.

  • @All Of You Naysayers

    Seriously, what is the purpose to all of the argumentation? To get to some conclusion and understand what the solution to our problems really is. Do you change an institution by keeping it from contacting you life? Does keeping ROTC away from you fix discrimination? If yes, then you should disavow all institutions that bother you–namely and chiefly the US Federal Government. Please, do all that is in your power to remove them from your life. Stop enjoying their benefits, stop enjoying the public utilities, move to another country.

  • Nit-picky Law student

    FYI, here’s my nutshell opinion on ROTC and Stanford’s non-discrimination policy. Contrary to what Chris Bautista has claimed in the Daily, Stanford’s non-discrimination policy was not amended in order to accomodate ROTC. Some people have just insisted on reading the policy incorrectly. A plain reading of Stanford’s non-discrimination policy clearly shows that ROTC would not violate the policy:

    First part of policy: “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.”

    Analysis: Key phrase is “generally accorded or made available”. Some areas of Stanford are “generally accorded or made available” to all students. However, the areas of Stanford that are not “generally accorded or made available” to all students lawfully discriminate by requiring entry standards that are additional to general admission requirements. As long as the additional entry standard is lawful, Stanford has discretion to discriminate. The US military policy on the transgender characteristic is lawful.

    Second part of policy: “Consistent with its obligations under the law, it prohibits discrimination, including harassment, against students or applicants for admission, or employees or applicants for employment on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarships and loan programs, and athletic and other University-administered programs.”

    Analysis: Key phrases are “consistent with its obligations under the law” and “protected by applicable law”. Stanford’s non-discrimination policy states that Stanford’s non-discrimination obligations conform to the law and the policy’s protections are defined by applicable law. Therefore, Stanford has no legal obligation to violate lawful military policy by requiring transgender students contract in Stanford ROTC. Applicable law protects gender identity under some circumstances, but the military is regulated by different laws. The applicable law for Stanford ROTC does not require allowing transgender students to contract.

    Stanford has, by necessity, lawfully discriminated throughout its history. It must. The distinction is between lawful and unlawful discrimination. US military policy on the transgender characteristic is lawful.

    The real harm to transgender students from ROTC is minimal or non-existent. Adding ROTC to the campus will not replace nor substract anything now accorded or made available to transgender students. ROTC will not be a separate zone on campus that allows for harassment of transgender students. Transgender students should feel as safe in ROTC offices as anywhere else on campus. Finally, ROTC may already meet the “generally accorded or made available” threshold of the non-discrimination policy because some ROTC courses are usually made available to the general student body in order to fulfill ROTC’s campus educational and interactive purposes.

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