One year in, ROTC finds its footing

alexandraschmeling_veteransday-12
Photo by Alexandra Schmeling.

At 5 a.m., hours before most Yale students even consider waking up, Colonel Scott Manning is already checking his email as he leaves his house for Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

Twice each week, Manning leads 10 Yale students as well as 38 students from nearby colleges in physical training, preparing them for eventual roles in the United States Air Force.

Along with 25 counterparts who will join the United States Navy after graduation, these 10 Yale students are part of the Reserve Officer Training Corps, commonly known as ROTC. But they are more broadly part of an experiment as to whether two institutions — a leading research university grounded in the liberal arts and the most powerful military in the world — can coexist on campus.

Slightly over a year has passed since ROTC returned to Yale after a four-decade absence. Dismantled by Yale in 1970 because of the Vietnam War, the program — which at Yale includes only the Navy and Air Force — returned after the 2009 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law barring gays from openly serving in the military. Since then, Yale administrators, ROTC instructors and students in the program say the military and Yale have undergone a surprisingly smooth reintegration.

“It was a shock for me to see how well integrated it was,” said Jordan Bravin ’16, a midshipman in Naval ROTC. “Showing up and seeing ROTC as a whole, and military culture as a whole, being so well embraced by the Yale community was a surprise to me.”

Yale administrators, ROTC instructors and students interviewed echoed Bravin’s sentiments.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the program has “quickly been recognized as a part of the diversity of Yale student life.”

“The people who I know who are in ROTC, I see them walking around during classes,” Alan Zhang ’16 said. “There’s no divide [between ROTC and non-ROTC students] other than that they dress differently on certain days.”

Yale’s stated commitment to leadership and public service was reaffirmed by the addition of ROTC, said Yale College Associate Dean William Whobrey, who coordinates ROTC and Yale and described himself as a “translator” between the University and the military. University President Peter Salovey characterized the program as a good fit for the values of Yale.

Sitting in his office on the fourth floor of 55 Whitney Ave., surrounded by model airplanes, mementos and certificates of recognition for his 27 years in the Air Force, Manning — who is Commanding Officer for Air Force ROTC at Yale — said the University administration has provided key support to growing the program,.

“It’s almost as if [ROTC] had never been gone,” he said.

Although their offices are separated by no more than a kitchenette, the Navy and Air Force programs are technically separate. While the Navy ROTC program based at the University is composed entirely of Yale students, the Air Force contingent has almost four dozen non-Yale students, primarily from the University of New Haven. There is no Army ROTC program at Yale.

Manning said the Yale administration has effectively brought ROTC instructors, who are classified as adjunct professors, and staff into the University community. All have been offered appointments as fellows in various residential colleges.

The presence of ROTC instructors on campus provides members of the Yale community with the ability to “interact with the military and get the Hollywood perceptions of what the military is put aside,” said Commander James Godwin, who leads Naval ROTC at Yale and the College of the Holy Cross.

Additionally, he said, the Yale administration has worked closely with ROTC coordinators to offer a course on military history, taught by history professor Paul Kennedy. The course is required for all Navy and Air Force ROTC members, though it is also open to students with no thoughts of joining the military.

Meanwhile, students are themselves taking leadership roles within the ROTC programs. Josh Clapper ’16 — a midshipman who is also the public affairs officer for Naval ROTC at Yale — said student leadership roles within ROTC involve connecting freshmen to other extracurricular organizations they are interested in joining, as well as providing a good image of the military to a campus often unfamiliar with the armed forces.

Though those involved have broadly positive perceptions of ROTC, Whobrey suggested that the program may still be susceptible to stereotypes.

“I think the stereotypes of Yale, liberal; military, conservative are really not accurate. It’s too simplistic,” said Whobrey, who served in the military for 25 years.

Still, the University and the military do not always see eye to eye, particularly with regards to issues surrounding gender identity. Although gays may now serve openly in the military, gender non-conforming individuals remain prevented from serving.

Salovey said that he hopes the military’s new place on Yale’s campus will push it toward more progressive values.

“When places like Yale collaborate with programs like ROTC, we help them evolve policies that are consistent with our own values and goals,” Salovey said. “I would love to see a way in which gender non-conforming students with an interest in leadership positions in the U.S. military could find them.”

Still, any change in the military’s acceptance of gender non-conforming students is not likely to begin at Yale. Policies governing who can and cannot serve are determined at the federal level by the Secretary of Defense and other senior leaders.

For his part, Manning said he has no role in that level of policymaking.

Manning said he gets his orders from the Department of Defense, which reports to civilian government leaders.

“I follow the lead of my civilian leaders,” he said.

Comments