June 3, 2011
Yale’s history with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), which is to return to campus this next semester, has been a rocky one, indeed. Almost half of Yale’s all-male student population was enrolled in the ROTC during the Korean War, but in 1969 ROTC left campus after Yale faculty—informed by anti-Vietnam War sentiment—voted to eliminate college credit for ROTC courses due to their “vocational nature.” Such a course of study was deemed as being in conflict with Yale’s commitment to a liberal arts education.
Though the campus’ anti-war spirit dissipated, the ban continued up until recently, largely due to concerns over the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against openly homosexual and bisexual service members and applicants; Yale’s Equal Opportunity Statement, which fosters equal rights among all sexual orientations, would prohibit support of such a bigoted practice. However, after Congress voted to repeal DADT in December of 2010, Yale and its peer institutions like Harvard and Columbia, who had long prohibited ROTC activity on campus, began to discuss the possibility of reinstatement. On May 26, 2011, President Levin and the U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed an agreement to establish a Naval ROTC unit on campus, making Yale the only institution in Connecticut that offers a Naval program, as well as a program that serves students from a number of colleges and Universities. This decision came on the heels of a faculty report and vote in favor of inviting ROTC to return, as well as governmental pressure to open the nation’s campuses up to the military (President Obama has issued statements promoting ROTC programs, and Senator John Kerry ’66 called upon Yale specifically to reinstate ROTC in March of 2011).
While the decision to reinstall NROTC after almost half a century of absence was certainly driven by Congress’ vote to repeal DADT in the winter, it seems that Yale is now caught between two ideological pressures: the continued fight to promote equal opportunities for all students versus a newfound and governmentally encouraged interest in ROTC. Although initially the overturning of DADT might seem compatible with the two ideals, a closer look at military policy indicates otherwise. The military fails to provide equal rights regardless of gender identity by prohibiting transgender individuals from service. Additionally, given the military’s history of inappropriately dealing with issues of sexual harassment and assault, the return to campus of an organization based in military recruitment is troubling. Can Yale, an institution charged both ideologically (by the Equal Opportunity Statement) and legally (by Title IX) with equalizing sex and gender, support military programs that are currently discriminatory? It seems to think so. The Yale Daily News has reported that Mary Miller, Dean of Yale College, supports the return of ROTC in spite of concerns over transgender discrimination because “[the military has] taken the first step, and we look forward to further evolution.” Nevertheless, such a response from Yale as well as the military is insufficient, as Gabriel Murchison ’14 emphasized in an interview with the News—gay and lesbian issues are not necessarily the same as transgender issues and don’t necessarily follow the same trajectories of progress.
Only time will tell how NROTC will be practically established on campus and whether Yale will allow other branches of the military to institute similar programs. Yale’s original objection to ROTC—the diminishing of Yale’s own academic program and autonomy—no longer seems to concern the administration (academic enrollment credit will be granted by Yale but will not apply to a student’s major or degree requirements). Yet, the campus is left with the troubling issue of how Yale will reconcile this new program, which is inherently tied to the prejudiced policies of the military, with a commitment to an equitable environment.
Demetra Hufnagel is a sophomore at Yale College. She is an associate editor for Broad Recognition.