STERN: ROTC’s prejudice, Yale’s complicity

A Stern Perspective

Yale condones discrimination. It is certainly not the only college doing so. In fact, every university in America that hosts a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is condoning discrimination.

In Dec. 2010, President Barack Obama signed a law repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy prohibiting gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from serving openly in the military. The very next day, University President Richard Levin called Defense Secretary Robert Gates to tell him Yale would “very much like to explore reinstating ROTC.” ROTC had been absent from Yale’s campus since the Vietnam era, but the military’s about-face on gay and lesbian rights convinced Yale it was time to bring the program back.

In time for the 2012-’13 school year, ROTC was back. Openly gay Yalies joined, and they could be seen in uniform alongside straight classmates. Running, marching, doing pushups — Yalies of all sexual orientations could now serve their country together. All was well.

But things are never that simple, and all was not as it seemed. The military can no longer prohibit gay, lesbian or bisexual members from serving openly, but it still has a definite ban on transgender or gender-nonconforming people. These individuals are therefore not allowed to join Yale’s ROTC. According to military regulations, cadets must identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and wear clothing that is “gender-appropriate.”

It is clear that ROTC still discriminates, and by welcoming it back to campus Yale is endorsing the military’s prejudice.

Administrators have even offered their own rationale for the military’s policy on gender conformity. In Sept. 2012, Dean Mary Miller was interviewed in the Yale Herald regarding ROTC’s refusal to accept transgender students. She explained that Yale’s ROTC is just like many other campus organization that reserve the right to turn away certain students.

“Just because you want to row with the Varsity Crew, we’re not going to let you. There are many parts of the program at Yale College that demonstrate a certain skill, a certain commitment,” she said in the published interview.

The problem with Dean Miller’s defense of the policy is that it equates gender conformity to a skill or a commitment. Yale’s crew team reserves the right to reject weak rowers, but they cannot reject strong rowers simply because of their gender identities. To do so would be a gross violation of Yale’s stated commitment to equal opportunity.

The University has a clear Equal Opportunity Statement, which declares that Yale cannot “discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” By allowing ROTC back on campus, Yale has violated this commitment.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not against ROTC on principle. During the second semester of my freshman year, I tagged along with several members of Yale’s Army ROTC for their training at the Stone Ranch Military Reservation. I was impressed by the students’ dedication to serving the military and supporting each other. I have friends in ROTC and family members that have served in the military.

But I feel personally violated when my University is infringing on anybody’s civil rights. Some may say that transgender individuals constitute only a small minority of people who wish to serve in the military. But this is no excuse. The University’s non-discrimination policy should be enforced equally for everyone. Unless ROTC ends its discrimination, Yale cannot allow the program to remain on campus.

When the News asked President Peter Salovey why ROTC was reinstated, he responded that the program makes Yale “more attractive for potential applicants from different parts of the country and with different and diverse backgrounds.” But if President Salovey is emphasizing diversity, he should also consider the impact of a policy that makes gender-nonconforming students feel unwelcome on campus.

I am not naïve enough to believe that Yale’s rejection of ROTC could singlehandedly change military policy. But a high-profile move by Yale could shift the national conversation. And even if it doesn’t, Yale has a stated commitment to equal opportunity. I expect my University to uphold that commitment.

Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

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