Everyone has an opinion on the U.S. military’s infamous policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” DADT was implemented as a compromise between President Bill Clinton — who had campaigned on the promise of repealing the military’s ban of gays and lesbians — and Congress in 1993. The policy states that gays and lesbians are not allowed to serve openly in the military, and superiors are not allowed to question soldiers’ sexual orientation.
When President Barack Obama was campaigning, he declared that he would work to repeal DADT if elected. Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen have testified before Congress that they believe the policy has failed and should be repealed. As evidenced by Obama’s pledge to work toward repealing DADT in his State of the Union address, the issue is now consuming Washington once again, just as it did in 1993.
So what does this mean for the Penn community? My original idea for this column was to interview members of Penn’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp program to see how they felt about the debate. Clearly, if there are any Penn students who are directly feeling the impact of this military policy, it would be them. Unfortunately, every student I talked to believed it would be inappropriate to be interviewed — even anonymously. This highlights a large problem.
I recognize that military culture is rigid. There is a strict hierarchy, and you must abide by it. I question how compatible such a culture is with a Penn education. We are here to question everything. When a student feels he or she cannot discuss an issue dominating the national political dialogue, something has gone wrong.
Sure, Penn’s NROTC program completely violates the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus. This is an academic program that rejects students who are publicly out and refuse to hide their identity. And sure, the very existence of this program on our campus violates Penn’s non-discrimination policy, which clearly states that Penn will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Penn President Amy Gutmann said in an April 2008 University Council meeting that she doesn’t support DADT, but Penn has to allow the military on campus or it risks losing federal funding. But that was not the issue I wanted to discuss. I simply wanted to see how the debate was impacting them as NROTC students at Penn.
Students on our campus should never feel as though they cannot openly discuss a pertinent issue. The fact of the matter is that the NROTC program has created a corps of Penn students who feel that it is inappropriate to openly discuss military matters. These students should be on the forefront of the debate. They should be lending their opinions on the matter — they are, after all, some of the very few Penn undergraduates who have some sort of expertise in military affairs.
There could be a great dialogue on campus about this issue. We have undergraduates who will soon be officers in both the Navy and the Marines. We also have a campus that has been ranked by The Advocate as the one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the nation. If ever there were a place where DADT should be debated and discussed, it is right here. Unfortunately, because of the restrictions put in place by the NROTC program, students enrolled in it do not feel comfortable openly discussing this policy.
Regardless of his or her major, no Penn student should feel that they cannot participate in an open, meaningful dialogue on an issue. This simply does not mesh with the academic atmosphere at our University. We should be debating everything all the time. If this military-education program is preventing this sort of free exchange, perhaps it is time for Penn to re-examine its relationship with NROTC.
Dennie Zastrow is a College senior from Wilson, N.Y. He is the former chairman of the Lambda Alliance. His e-mail address is email@example.com. A Dennie For Your Thoughts appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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