Three panelists spoke about hazing and discrimination in the military at a Wednesday evening panel.
About 20 students gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to hear the panelists discuss Private Danny Chen, a New York native and Chinese-American who committed suicide in October 2011 after allegedly suffering extreme racial bullying and physical and psychological hazing at the hands of other U.S. soldiers serving in his unit in Afghanistan. The incident stirred anti-bullying advocacy efforts by Chen’s friends, family and activists around the country, the panelists said, and also drew attention to the broader issue of discrimination in the military.
Eugene Fidell, a lecturer at Yale Law School and an expert on military law who spoke on the panel, said Chen’s case highlighted the flaws in how the U.S. military administers justice.
“The thing you had to understand about the military justice system is that it is decentralized, and that scores of commanders have unlawful command influence,” Fidell said. “Autonomous decision-makers guide the administration of justice … There is no political accountability in the military justice system, and it is a very, very imperfect system.”
Eight of the soldiers in Chen’s unit were initially charged with multiple counts of dereliction of duty, negligent homicide, assault and involuntary manslaughter, but those charges have since been reduced to dereliction of duty and assault and endangerment, said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans-New York, an advocacy organization involved with Chen’s case. OuYang said initial hearings were held for the eight in Afghanistan after “unrelenting advocacy,” but added that her organization hopes to see them charged in the United States.
OuYang said the Organization of Chinese Americans first began working on Chen’s case after attending his funeral in New York’s Chinatown, and have since begun a “journey to find out what happened to Danny.” Over that time period, various news outlets have reported that Chen was the only Chinese-American soldier in his unit and a subject of racial slurs and various forms of abuse, though OuYang said none of the incidents were reported when they happened.
In his introductory remarks at the event, Christopher Marnell ’14 said Chen’s case highlighted the issue of discrimination as one “that is not solely an Asian-American issue but one that crosses race and gender borders.”
Katie Miller ’12, who identifies as gay and transferred to Yale after attending the United States Military Academy at West Point for two years, compared the discrimination Chen faced to her own encounters with discrimination in the military based on her sexual orientation.
“The military has a long way to go with regards to race and gender,” Miller said. “Danny Chen’s case made me realize that mine was not necessarily an isolated experience and really got me thinking about the intersectionality of these experiences. People who advocate for service members want each [case of discrimination] to be isolated, but that’s not the case.”
Miller expressed her hope that the military, which she said used to be at the forefront of social progress, would once again “be used as a tool for social change.” She cited President Harry Truman’s desegregation of the military in 1948 as an example of the military anticipating nationwide progress on race relations.
Miller said she believes the military has the “structural capacity” to support a culture of diversity and respect, and that those values have just “fallen by the wayside” at the moment.
“We should not be easily fooled into thinking that the military is incapable of handling [its problems],” she said.
The panel was hosted by Yale’s Political Action and Education Committee, an affiliate of the Yale Asian American Student Alliance.