Letter to the Editor: ROTC Redux

May 13, 2011, 12:25 a.m.

Dear Editor,

In an op-ed piece this past Wednesday, Jonathan Poto ’13 expressed frustration at Stanford’s decision to reinstate ROTC and at our Provost’s op-ed affirming his support of the transgender community at Stanford. Though I can well understand Mr. Poto’s frustration, I feel his view is not entirely fair to our leadership. As a transgender faculty member, I have received only strong support from the Stanford community and leadership for the past 15 years. I feel very proud and lucky to be at a place where our leadership has repeatedly taken real actions to support the transgender community. Most recently, this includes the inclusion of student health insurance benefits that cover medical treatment and surgeries for transgender students, a substantial benefit that exists at few other universities (at our sister institution Harvard, whenever a certain well known professor makes trans-phobic statements to the students, these statements are met with silence by their leadership — something that would never happen here). As was clear from his highly moving op-ed piece, our Provost has deep and genuine respect for our transgender community and he truly anguished over the ROTC decision. Important values were in conflict — there could be no decision that would be fair to all. In a highly respectful Faculty Senate discussion, this issue was discussed fully and a decision was made to reinstate ROTC.

Though some in our transgender community may not agree with this decision, there are many of us that do. Personally, I believe that at present our military is a highly unsafe place for transgender soldiers. Even women are not safe in the military. Up to 40 percent of female soldiers have been sexually assaulted while the military top leadership looks the other way, rarely punishing the perpetrators. The removal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a landmark step forward, and in time, the military will admit transgender soldiers. And when this happens, thanks to reinstatement of ROTC here, there will be Stanford trained officers in command who will support this transition. In the meantime, I am very proud of the way our LGBT students and their friends have organized and worked together to improve the lives of transgender students at Stanford. But I think it would be wise for those students frustrated by the ROTC decision to realize that in life one wins some and loses some. And sometimes it is better to be graceful in defeat than to alienate one’s strongest supporters. There is much left to be done, and I am certain that our leadership will continue to be fully supportive. Our Provost really cares about all of our various diverse communities at Stanford, and we are very (very!) lucky to have him here.

Ben Barres
Professor and Chair of Neurobiology

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