The Military-Civil Divide

The Military-Civil Divide

Last spring, there was a flurry of talk on the issues the military community face on campus. Some advocated for better representation of the military in the ASSU by creating a veteran liaison and appointing military members to the Executive Cabinet. Others hoped to establish a military community center. Others suggested these discussions were unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the conversation was cut short by summer break, before these thoughts could translate into actions and policies.  

So let’s consider how the ASSU can actually help the Stanford community. It’s safe to say that most students here don’t understand the responsibilities of the ASSU. Contrary to what you might think, the ASSU does have influence beyond handing out money to student groups. Its most important power is not found anywhere in its budget. What the ASSU does best is raise awareness about issues facing communities within the student body.

That’s a point that military veteran and now ROTC Cadet Pablo Lozano mentioned last year when I asked him about issues facing the military-affiliated community here on campus.

Cadet Lozano is a junior at Stanford. He is a co-founder of Applied CyberSecurity, Stanford’s first student group dedicated to both the technical and policy perspectives of white hat hacking and cybersecurity. He is the Director of Relations and Development at Stanford in Government, and a board member of MyVACommunity, a group that works with veterans across the Bay Area. Pablo enlisted with the US military in 2012, during his senior year of high school, deferring his enrollment to Stanford to serve his country.

He’s an awesome guy, but I could easily never have met him.

For the most part, the 147-member military-affiliated community doesn’t often interact with the rest of campus. Without a concerted effort to learn more about them, students like me wouldn’t   know that the military-affiliated community is actually quite diverse. It is evenly split between graduate and undergraduate schools; some of its members are officers and others enlisted. A quarter are dependents of veterans, using a relative’s post-9/11 GI Bill, a kind of scholarship for members of the military community.

On May 26, they held a memorial service at the Law School. During homecoming they created a small forum to discuss the military-civil divide: the gap of understanding between those two communities. Earlier this year they held a Veteran’s-Day “Fun Run at the Dish” to raise funds for charities like the Wounded Warriors Project, inviting other veterans and even Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to attend.

No one from the civilian undergraduate community attended. No one from any campus news organizations covered these events.

The ASSU could have promoted these events with a small announcement in one of their emails. It could also become a welcome partner in a new conversation: Cadet Lozano expressed that other veterans aren’t sure what ASSU representation would look like, since the military community  doesn’t interact frequently with the rest of the student body Cabinet representation and a community center would be welcome, but the biggest support the ASSU could offer would be to encourage conversation with members of the military-affiliated community. In fact, one such conversation helped me learn about one of the administrative problems Pablo faced as a veteran on campus.

Through an ROTC Active Duty Scholarship, the army pays part of Cadet Lozano’s tuition. However, payment of these funds is first-come, first-serve. Veterans attending schools on the semester system start school and their paperwork earlier. Students on the quarter system, like Pablo, enter the system to a considerable backlog.

Sometimes, the money doesn’t reach Stanford before the tuition deadline. Stanford’s administration then places a hold on access to his records, which he needs to send to the army so that they can confirm his enrollment and process his scholarship. Though ultimately Pablo managed to work everything out, gridlock like this could be more easily resolved if the administration created better protocols for dealing with veterans.

I later sought out then-officer candidate Leslie Bridges for another perspective on military issues at Stanford. Leslie is a senior studying political science, currently interning in the Pentagon through Stanford in Washington. She’s on the executive board for Stanford Women in Politics, and is an oral communications tutor (OCT) at the Hume Center. Leslie is the financial officer for the Stanford Undergraduate Veterans’ Association even though she is not a veteran. She has now completed Officer Candidate’s School for the US Marine Corps, intending to commission this June.

Leslie has devoted significant effort to evaluating the military-civil divide, such as both leading and participating in an Alternative Spring Break trip on the subject on separate years. She says that one of the worst ways the military-civil divide manifests itself is when someone has absolutely no interest in learning anything about the military: a guarded indifference that prevents dialogue or reform.

That isn’t to say people that should not criticize our nation’s armed services. Leslie herself welcomes debate about military policy and history, insisting that informed discussion is essential for improvement.Indeed, since many Stanford students eventually occupy often-powerful roles in government and industry after graduation, it is important for our campus to engage with the military community personally and intellectually. Otherwise, military policy is more likely to become disconnected from reality. In recent history, the disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan might have been averted if the political establishment at the time listened to their top generals and intelligence personnel. Instead, they were disregarded entirely, and the global repercussions are still felt  today. To put it shortly, a member of any Stanford  class  shouldn’t become Secretary of Defense without understanding veterans’ perspectives.

Beyond the practical benefits of understanding the concerns of the military, learning from people with different ideas is a fundamental tenet of a liberal arts education. Stanford intentionally matches students with roommates from different places majoring in different subjects, hoping that students will learn from each other, instead of remaining comfortably isolated. We could take the same attitude in our engagement with the military by having more conversations like these, working together to design reforms for our campus.

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