Rev Irene Monroe

ROTC marching its way back onto Harvard's campus

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | April 29, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Brown University, Columbia University, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Harvard University, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, ROTC

For decades the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) was an unwelcome sight on Ivy League college campuses, like Harvard University, because of its ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) servicemembers.

rotcCC_patch.gifBut in February of this year when the nation's top two Defense officials, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advocated for a repeal of the 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)" policy, universities like Brown, Columbia and Harvard, to name a few, are allowing ROTC to march its way back on campus.

For example, while Harvard's ROTCs participate in the program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they are commissioned as officers in Harvard Yard upon graduation.

But many Harvard LGBTQ students are not pleased by the sight of ROTC on campus, and feel that the school should wait in having the program until DADT is actually repealed.

And there is good reason for their distrust. Obama has come up empty handed on too many campaign promises to us. And especially this one.

For example, soon after Obama's inauguration in 2009 the LGBTQ community waited anxiously to hear that steps were being made to repeal DADT. But on June 8 of that year when the Supreme Court refused to review the Pentagon policy that prohibits LGBTQ servicemembers to serve openly in the military, Obama's people added salt to the wounds of our LGBTQ servicemembers by stating in court papers that the ruling on DADT was correct because of the military's legitimate concern of LGBTQ servicemembers endangering "unit cohesion" - a concept totally debunked by a 2002 study.

In March of this year Gen. David Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee stating that DADT should be repealed but expressed, nonetheless, his concerns about the policy's effects on recruitment and "unit cohesion."

The argument about "unit cohesion" is deliberately designed to ban LGBTQ servicemembers from combat. The privacy rationale states that all servicemembers have the right to maintain at least partial control over the exposure of their bodies and intimate bodily functions. In other words, heterosexual men deserve the right to control who sees their naked bodies. According to the privacy rationale argument, the "homosexual gaze" in same-sex nudity does more than disrupt "unit cohesion." Its supposedly predatory nature expresses sexual yearning and desires for unwilling subjects that not only violates the civil rights of heterosexuals, but it also causes untoward psychological and emotional trauma to them.

However, the 2002 study titled " A Modest Proposal: Privacy as a Flawed Rationale for the Exclusion of Gays and Lesbians from the U.S. Military," states that banning LGBTQ servicemembers would not preserve the privacy of its heterosexual servicemembers, but instead it would actually undermine heterosexual privacy because of its systematic invasion to maintain it. In order to maintain heterosexual privacy military inspectors would not only inquire about the sexual behaviors of its servicemembers, but it would also inquire into the sexual behaviors of their spouses, partners, friends and relatives.

But according to this study, heterosexuals already shower with known LGBTQ servicemembers, and very few heterosexuals are extremely uncomfortable with these men.

Although Obama promised the LGBTQ community during his administration that DADT will eventually be repealed, he has set no definite timeline to do so. Instead he has suggested the Pentagon complete its study first as the best course of action to overturn DADT, which is due in early December. However, many LGBTQ Americans feel Obama's administration is once again stalling on taking a deliberate action against the policy.

For more than a decade now U.S. military recruiters have demanded their presence back on college campuses. The 1996 Solomon Amendment requires college campuses to offer full recruiting access to the military or else risk losing federal grants.

With Harvard receiving a sizable chunk of its annual budget from the federal government - approximately 15% of its yearly budget in federal grants go primarily to the medical school and the school of public health for medical and scientific research - the university has found itself between a rock and a hard place.

While it is not surprising that military recruiters and ROTC are finding their way back onto campuses, it is surprising that, in the midst of a war that needs every able body who wants to fight, the enlisting of our American patriots continues to include a debate about sexual orientation. Military readiness is not a heterosexual calling. And even Charles Moskos, the chief architect of "DADT," has said that the policy should be suspended.

If the Pentagon believes after it completes its study this December that servicemembers who are LBGTQ endanger "unit cohesion" it will only be maintaining a policy of segregation, an argument eerily reminiscent of the one the military used before it was forced to racially integrate its ranks.

However, the greatest disappointment to our LGBTQ servicemembers will not be that ROTCs are marching their way back onto college campuses with DADT upheld. But rather that our government took no action on our behalf.

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Michael @ | April 29, 2010 8:36 PM

Thank you for this post. A respectful addition and correction.

1. The BITTER irony is that the person who argued the defense of DADT that you mentioned which resulted in the June 2009 denial of certiorari to the lawsuit brought by DADT victim Jim Pietrangelo [yes, the same Jim who's been arrested twice at the White House] was former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan who, in that earlier role, banned ROTC & recruiters because of DADT and was a co-plaintiff in an unsuccessful appeal to the Supremes regarding the Solomon Amendment. Now, Miss Thing, who may or may not be gay herself, is Obama's Solicitor General who reversed her own self and defended DADT [AND the hideous Patriot Act] to the Supremes to get her ticket punched to possibly become a Supreme herself. My, isn't integrity a beautiful thing?

2. Perhaps you meant co-architect Colin Powell not Charles Moskos when you wrote, "the chief architect of 'DADT' has said that the policy should be suspended." Powell hasn't been quite so explicit, but, in any case, bastard Moskos went to his grave two years ago still defending DADT, though he did finally admit that his earlier insistence that gays hurt "unit cohesion" was just a ruse to protect homophobes' right not to serve with homos. "Antipathy towards gays" is a "prejudice" that has a "rational basis," he said. "Prudes have rights, too." [from "Unfriendly Fire" by Nathaniel Frank.]

DADT or not, I still don't like the fact that the military is on college and high school campuses trying to lure our young into service with a ton of false promises and fast talk.


You write: "For decades the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) was an unwelcome sight on Ivy League college campuses, like Harvard University, because of its ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) servicemembers."

Not exactly. For decades, strong anti-war sentiment on several campuses, including those of the Ivy League, kept ROTC out of universities. DADT is now part of the equation (I know it came up at the U of Chicago a few years ago), but it's a more recent part of the history of the protests around ROTC. This piece in the NYT gives the more complicated history of ROTC on campuses:

Here's one indicative quote: "R.O.T.C.’s scholarships may also look less enticing at elite universities. Since the 1990s, as endowments ballooned, the Harvards, Yales and M.I.T.’s have greatly expanded their financial aid packages to reach more middle-class families. At M.I.T., 60 percent of undergraduates now receive need-based scholarships. A middle-class student can qualify for substantial aid directly from the university without having to take on the extra demands of R.O.T.C. and committing to military service after graduating."

It also quotes Ruth R. Wisse, "a Harvard professor of comparative literature, [who] has criticized the R.O.T.C. ban publicly. She calls the “don’t ask, don’t tell” argument a smokescreen for antimilitary bias and says these universities were so cowed by the antiwar protests of the ’60s that they would do anything not to stir up the same issues again."

So even someone in favour of ROTC on campus is cynical of the DADT excuse.

There are complicated class issues around ROTC and campuses, which Bil points to above. I've been part of the cohorts protesting its presence on two separate campuses, both state universities, and I can assure you our primary impulse was to resist it as an anti-war measure and to protest the militarisation of education and the wilful exploitation of the economically vulnerable.

ROTC and militarisation are also huge issues for us in Chicago, which has the most militarised school district in the country. The excuse is that it allows social mobility when the reality is that it allows the military to take and eventually decimate the most economically vulnerable, usually youth of colour, with promises of a better life.

There is nothing liberatory about the military and several education scholars, like Therese Quinn and Erica Meiners (who wrote Flaunt It! Queers Organizing for Education and Justice) have been very critical of the military presence in education. So have others like Pauline Lippman and grassroots groups like Gender JUST (of which I am a part). The trouble with militarisation and ROTC begins long before students even think of entering college.

Let's not rewrite and even erase a long anti-war history at universities around ROTC.

amandaisfun | May 1, 2010 2:20 PM

Alas, this is an old thread (so apologies for the thread necro) but I couldn't disagree more with everyone.

I'm a trans vet, honorably discharged for coming out as trans, and about as left wing as they get, but I disagree with banning ROTC on college campuses because of DADT (or general opposition to the military).

A great deal of the officer corps in the Army comes from either southern or rural states. That is a serious problem-the officer corps is not representative of the American people. There is a problem when most ROTC grads (or law school grads, for example) come from southern bum fuck schools rather than coastal or urban universities. The military very much needs more officers who are grads of not just ivy league schools, but urban northern schools in general.

I hate militarism as much as anyone, but short of totally getting rid of the military (unrealistic) or turning the military over to southerners (how has that not been a recipe for disaster over the past couple of decades) we need a wider demographic pool of officers.