The importance of the American military has not been lost on me: My grandfather and my father are both veterans, and one of my uncles currently serves in the Air Force. In fact, I have spent the better part of my life growing up on military bases around the world. Despite my respect for the institution, however, I must object to the recent call for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to be re-established at Yale.
As I was applying to college, my father suggested that I apply for an ROTC scholarship — a grant that would pay for much of my college tuition in exchange for future military service. When I later came out to him, however, he understood why that was not a possibility for me: Federal law’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy bans gays from openly serving in the U.S. military. Specifically, Title 10, Chapter 37 of the United States Code states: “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military cohesion.”
Because I had grown up in a military environment with such intolerance toward gays, it was important to me that my college be nondiscriminatory. So when it came time to choose, I picked Yale over Duke, in large part because Yale’s University-wide nondiscrimination policy ends with “– nor does Yale discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.” Duke, due to the ROTC organizations on campus, cannot claim this same unbiased policy. For Yale to renounce this stance so blatantly would betray the many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus, as well as Yale’s commitment to civil rights.
Nondiscrimination is a strong part of Yale’s progressive ideology. Every Yale organization must be open to all, in accordance with Yale’s policy of nondiscrimination. For example, I can join the Muslim Students Association despite the fact that I am Christian, or I can join La Casa Cultural, despite the fact that I am not Hispanic. Allowing a group on campus, whether extracurricular or academic, which shows prejudice toward gays and lesbians would be a betrayal of avowed policy. The ROTC program poses just that risk to Yale’s commitment to tolerance.
In the past, Yale has strongly upheld its objective of nondiscrimination. For example, the Boy Scouts (an institution with which I was involved for at least 10 years of my life) was banned from Dwight Hall because of disapproval stemming from the organization’s discriminatory practices. A current lawsuit also illustrates Yale’s ongoing commitment to nondiscrimination: Since 2002, the Yale Law School has been embroiled in a debate centered around the 1996 Solomon Amendment, which orders universities to allow military recruiters on campus in order to retain federal funding. According to the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network, “Any access for an employer that fails to meet schools’ nondiscrimination policies is special access. The Solomon Amendment is about giving the military a special right to discriminate in a way other employers may not.”
The Solomon Amendment also demands that universities allow the ROTC program to have access to campus. Yale’s decision to disallow ROTC and to ban recruiters defies both subsections of the Amendment. These acts of civil disobedience are admirable in their efforts to retain Yale’s policies of equality — policies that apply to all organizations, including the government and the military.
If Yale were to grant ROTC University-endorsed status, nondiscrimination itself would be at risk. Many students choose to come to Yale because of its reputation for acceptance, a reputation that would be tarnished by allowing ROTC access. Why should the military be an exception to Yale’s policy? For example, if someone wished to start a campus chapter of the Ku Klux Klan — “America’s Largest, Oldest, and Most Professional White Rights Organization” — Yale’s nondiscrimination policy would certainly be upheld. The military, then, should not be exempt from these same rules: Allowing ROTC on this campus is tantamount to University-sanctioned bigotry.
I understand the dilemma of students who wish to participate in a ROTC program. And I sympathize with them: I would love both to serve my country and to make my father proud by serving in the military. However, it is not Yale’s obligation to dispense with its nondiscrimination policy in order to allow ROTC access. Just as students who want to escape discrimination based on sexual orientation must search for a university that fits their needs, so must students seeking the ROTC experience search elsewhere for fulfillment, for the time being at least. In spite of this, my hope is that the military will abandon its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in favor of a nondiscrimination policy similar to Yale’s. Then, but only then, may the venerable halls of Yale once again serve as training grounds for the honorable institution of military service.
Andrew Beaty is a sophomore in Silliman College.