What, then, is different this year?
The new factor is the third plank:
ROTC at Stanford University:
The Women’s Coalition does not endorse the return of the ROTC program to Stanford University and stands in solidarity with the efforts of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation. All Women’s Coalition candidates must speak out against ROTC’s discriminatory policy towards trans people (as of now transwomen cannot join the ROTC program, which stands as gender discrimination) and its failure to adequately address the sexual violence, rape, and sexual assault of women serving in the military.
The wording of this plank is interesting. The Coalition does not technically require its candidates to oppose ROTC (it only necessitates opposing ROTC’s discriminatory policy, not the organization itself), but it seems extremely plausible that it will favor those candidates who do – especially in light of its statement that it “stands in solidarity with the efforts of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation,” which has expressly rejected ROTC’s return.
The Women’s Coalition states that it “represents the WVSOs of Stanford University and provides funding for projects, events, and programs that seek to represent and support women in a variety of areas.” A listing of WVSOs on the Women’s Community Center website reveals 31 additional WVSOs besides the Women’s Coalition (the Women’s Guide to Stanford (PDF) lists 35 groups). In response to emailed questions about the relationship, Viviana Arcia, President of the Women’s Coalition, originally wrote that:
The Women’s Coalition did consult with various WoCo-affiliated students and leaders. However, both myself [Viviana Arcia], Marta Hanson (FO), and the signatory members of the Coalition (who make up the core of WoCo) have the ultimate decision power in the issues and stances the Coalition will take in the upcoming election.
In a follow-up, I asked more specifically as to how the WoCo reached out to the WVSOs. Arcia responded saying:
Members of the WVSOs were the first to receive a draft of the application (along with the platform). No members of any WVSO contacted us within the allotted time before we were to begin blasting email lists, so the platform remained. However, WoCo would not have any qualms about responding or discussing the issue of ROTC with WVSO members and I have no doubt that there are members who either do not take a particular stance on the issue or do not wish to have WoCo take such a political stance on the issue (or may be for the reinstatement of ROTC), given the diverse views that make up the WVSO population. However, again, given just how much the military both excludes transwomen from serving and systematically ignores or fails to adequately address violence against women within the military, WoCo felt that the strong political stance was an appropriate one.
Emailing with the President of Delta Delta Delta, Katie McKeon, a listed WVSO, she stated that:
[T]o the best of my knowledge, Tridelt was not consulted on any of the planks of the Women’s Coalition platform, including the anti-ROTC plank. The sororities are listed as WVSOs because, by definition, we are women’s organizations. However, Tridelt was not been consulted about the endorsement as far as I know.
Other WVSO presidents have not (yet) responded to email inquiries on this subject – it still seems broadly unclear to me how “officially” the Women’s Coalition platform was circulated or whether it went out through a more unofficial process, i.e. distributed by some of the WoCo signatory members. If this latter case is true, then it seems reasonable to question whether WoCo truly can claim to represent all WVSOs, as it currently seems to imply that it does.
In addition to questions about the process of determining the content of the endorsement, I asked Viviana why this issue was selected. She identified a few key points (I’ve bolded points of particular interest – they were not bold in the original email):
The Women’s Coalition has been following the ROTC debates and, recently, we have been in collaboration with the Queer Coalition and Stanford Students for Queer Liberation on their campaign. Because so many of our issues intersect when it comes to the question of reinstating ROTC on campus, The Women’s Coalition felt it necessary to ally ourselves with this cause and make sure that we endorse candidates who will represent and advocate for minority populations directly impacted by ROTC and the military, among them LGBT communities, and women (including transwomen). The ultimate decision was made about two weeks ago.
As of now, transwomen are barred from serving in the military and the Women’s Coalition does not feel comfortable with having a student group on campus that is directly affiliated with an institution that continues to discriminate against this segment of the female population. In addition, because the women’s movement has historically been a close ally with the LGBT community, we also felt it a duty of ours to stand in solidarity with our LGBT peers, many of whom under current military guidelines would not be able to serve openly in the military (even after the repeal of DADT).
With regards to sexual assault, which remains the Women’s Coalition primary issue and cause, the military has itself been an institution that continues to ignore and trivialize violence against women, rape, and sexual assault within their own ranks. The Department of Defense recently released an annual report that shows an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military over the past year, including a 16 percent increase in reported assaults occurring in combat areas. In many of the cases now being brought forward, military personnel accused of rape and sexual assault were never charged (most often because military commanders do not want any marks made on their records). This becomes a HUGE issue because there is a large recidivism rate (sexually assaulting/raping someone again) among offenders of rape and sexual assault.
Furthermore, according to the Service Women’s Action Network, the Defense Department’s own statistics show that** fewer than one in five of sexual assault cases are even referred for court martial**. And many times, unit commanders are the judge and the jury in these types of cases (obviously NOT a fair and just procedure for survivors).
Because of this obvious conscious miscarriage of justice for survivors of sexual assault and rape within the military, the Women’s Coalition seeks to endorse candidates who will serve as advocates for both LGBT individuals as well as women within the military, both of which are serving their countries, risking their lives, and yet are still systematically oppressed and discriminated against by the same institution they are serving in.
I’ll mostly let Arcia’s statements speak for themselves, only noting the possible contradiction of mentioning the need for advocates for women within the military and then hurt the possibility of Stanford students being able to make that change within the military by joining as officers. In addition the “many of whom” comment seems to overstate the size of the transgender population and to significantly overstate the proportion of the transgender population at Stanford that has expressed interest in joining the military (which, so far as I am aware, is 0).
My final question for Arcia related to the possible hypothetical that the Tenzin/Vasquez slate might elect not to campaign against ROTC and thus the question of whether the Women’s Coalition would feel comfortable going against a direct example of “women in leadership” arises. Here’s her reply (again, the bolding is mine):
The Women’s Coalition would not have an issue with endorsing an all-male slate over a female-led one. In fact, many of our past endorsed candidates from the UG Senate have been male and they have been strong and devoted allies to women-related issues. However, no decisions have been made with regards to the Executive position and interviews will be taking place later this week, so we have yet had a chance to speak to candidates.
Here, Arcia clearly expresses a willingness to endorse Cruz/Macgregor-Dennis over Tenzin/Vasquez, if the latter refused to campaign against ROTC. However, it is important to note that she makes reference to the UG Senate – not past Executive races. There is precedent for rejecting a female-led slate in favor of a male-led slate (Arcia said that she believed that Dorsey/Harris was endorsed over Sharma/Cackler (which included Priyanka Sharma, a female, as its candidate for President)). However, in that race there was never a non-all-male slate in serious contention for winning (and thus endorsing an all-male slate may have been the key to having one’s interests heard). Sharma/Cackler was ejected with fewer than 500 votes in a race that was ultimately won (PDF) by Dorsey/Harris with over 2100 votes versus an opponent that accumulated almost 1900. No one is expecting Tenzin/Vasquez to go out that easily. Of course, we shouldn’t get too excited – Cruz/Macgregor-Dennis haven’t issued any statements about ROTC (to my knowledge, at least), so perhaps the Women’s Coalition will end up endorsing no one, but we’ll just wait to see about that.