‘Don’t ask’ repeal jumpstarts ROTC debate

Jan. 5, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

Last month’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), a federal policy that banned openly gay people from serving in the military, has ushered in a new stage in the debate over whether ROTC will be brought back to Stanford. Considered by some to contradict Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy, DADT was seen as a major obstacle to overcome by those who supported the return of ROTC, whose program at Stanford ended in the 1970s.


“Within the committee, DADT was always one of our hold-ups,” said Imani Franklin ‘13, a member of the Faculty Senate ad hoc committee on ROTC formed last March to explore a possible return. “There would not be much consideration about bringing ROTC back if ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was still in place.”


'Don't ask' repeal jumpstarts ROTC debate
CAROLINE MARKS/The Stanford Daily

“Now that it’s been repealed,” Franklin added, “we can go forward with the conversation, and it’s much more likely that ROTC could be brought back to campus if that’s what the general Stanford community wants.”


However, the repeal has left the LGBT community at Stanford divided.


While some LGBT groups view it as success for gay and lesbian people, who can now serve in uniform openly, others — such as Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) and the Stanford Queer-Straight Alliance (SQSA) — believe the repeal may be used as grounds to justify the return of ROTC even though the military has other discriminatory policies in place.


In particular, the two groups say they are concerned that transgender people are still excluded from service according the Uniform Code of Military Justice.


“Now that DADT is repealed, we acknowledge and appreciate the fact that gay, lesbian and bisexual service members can now serve openly,” said Janani Balasubramanian ’12, a member of SSQL’s subcommittee on ROTC. “But on the other hand, the military is still completely closed off to transgender people. We feel that, on the grounds that Stanford does have gender identity in its nondiscrimination clause, that we should oppose ROTC.”


Early in fall quarter, SSQL formed a subcommittee to investigate ROTC soon after Daniel Colligan, a graduate student in computer science and president of the group Stanford Says No to War, came to speak at one of their meetings. He presented his views on ROTC and asked the group if it would like to take a stance on the issue as well.


“We had already been talking about the ROTC issue in light of DADT,” Balasubramanian said, “but he was definitely sort of a spark for us.”


The group spent several meetings trying to determine what its position on the issue would be. After deciding that it was a queer rights organization, not just a gay rights organization, SSQL came to the conclusion that it could not support a program that discriminates against transgender people.


Its first act was writing a Nov. 15 op-ed in The Daily, which laid out its views on ROTC. Now, because of the repeal, the group has decided to write another letter. While it was originally to be addressed to exclusively to the Office of Diversity and Access asking it to uphold Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy, it is now an open letter to all and has been sent to most of the administration.


In fact, SSQL has been shifting its tactics.


“We still really want to watch what’s going on with the Faculty Senate and present our voices,” SSQL president Alok Vaid-Menon ’13 said, “but we’ve reoriented our efforts to create a consciousness amongst the student body.”


Next week, the group’s members plan on passing out flyers about their position in White Plaza to bring attention to their cause, which is pointing out the exclusion of transgender people.


Vaid-Menon said he does recognize divisions within just the left-leaning community over this issue.


“I definitely think they’re there,” Vaid-Menon said. “I think there are a lot of people that now see it as fair for the military to be back recruiting on campus because gay men and women can now serve openly.”


One of these people is Zev Karlin-Neumann ’11, campus director of Stanford Democrats. While the organization has yet to take an official stance, and may not given the large umbrella of members it covers, Karlin-Neumann says he supports the return of ROTC in light of the policy’s repeal.


“I think a number of Stanford Democrats like myself believe that it’s very important to have an integrated military,” Karlin-Neumann said, “and not just in terms of allowing people of all races, backgrounds and sexual orientations to serve. People who come from institutions like Stanford should also be allowed to engage in the military through something like ROTC as well.”


Karlin-Neumann said the issue is at least worth re-examining.


“I think DADT was a very obvious obstacle to bringing ROTC back, and I think that the exclusion of ROTC is the product of some historical issues with the military,” he said. “But since issues are constantly evolving, I think our responses to them should change as well. [The repeal] does offer reason to revisit some of these policies, and it should be open for discussion.”


And it will be next Tuesday night when the Faculty Senate committee holds a town-hall style meeting in the Betchel International Center Assembly room from 7 to 9 p.m., where the committee members will be introduced and students can voice their opinions.


“It’s going to be a really open forum,” Franklin said. “I would definitely encourage students to come to the town hall, because students are going to have a large role in this decision.”

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