Monday, June 11, 2007

The Other Legacy of Don't Ask Don't Tell

A couple of days ago Harley talked about Civil Rights re: homosexuals. Now I stand by my comment that to deny the LGBTQ community civil rights is counter-intuitive, but I'd like to look at the example of the American military:

-we lose qualified translators to Don't Ask, Don't Tell
-we also lose qualified women because Bush extended the number of jobs which qualify as "combat" roles, so women are no longer eligible for them.

Approximately 10-15% of Americans are homosexual. 50% of Americans are women.

I think that the argument about Don't Ask, Don't Tell overshadows this, and other important issues facing our military today. Nor do I think that women are the only people who are being discriminated against. One of the major reasons given that ROTC and similar programs have not been re instituted on Ivy League campuses (with the exception of Harvard, and even there it isn't based on campus) is the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

Here are my issues with this stance:

1) ROTC is one of the few remaining sources of funding for college-bound high school students from poor backgrounds. No loan repayment. No financial aid scandals. It disproportionately helps poor and minority students afford a college education that may have otherwise been out of their reach. While diversity is growing on college campuses, recent studies have shown that the students of color are, by and large, middle to upper-middle class.

2)The government could, at any point, withhold funding from colleges which refuse to host ROTC programs. It is only a matter of time before this funding is used as a club with which to beat the schools into submission. And that would be a bad situation for everyone.

3)Don't Ask, Don't Tell is absurd. It is objectively discriminatory, and it should be abolished. However, students and administrations who work to block ROTCs on campus (either for recruiting or scholastic programs) aren't hurting the military. They are hurting the other students for whom the army is one of a few limited choices.

4)Barring ROTC and recruiters from Ivy League, and other top-tier schools' campuses only heightens the disparity between our military class and our middle class. We should be sending (at least some) of our best and brightest to the military. Not just through the academies (which can be a little bit scary and indoctrinating), but also through liberal arts colleges.

More choices are always better than fewer choices.

Update: Thanks to TR for pointing out this article on educational inequalities. FinAid at top-tier colleges has a way to go.


Ezzie said...

Approximately 10-15% of Americans are homosexual.


I've never seen numbers higher than 4%.

Otherwise very good post.

Annie said...

Percentage of gay people in the UK and US.

Sarah said...

I'm curious--do you see having ROTC as an interim solution to get poor students enough money to go to elite schools, or or as an enduring strategy? I'm concerend that in making ROTC more available, lawmakers et al won't focus on equal access to education other than encouraging our most vulnerable students into the army. And, at least from a theoretical standpoint, I have an enormous issue with the recruiting stations positioned strategically in Harlem, East New York, and trade schools. There were some great articles back in the winter on community efforts to get recruiters out of vulnerable neighborhoods.

Annie said...

Sarah- I don't think that ROTC should be relied upon as the single way for students to get college funding. That said, it is a viable option, and as such, should be open to students, should they choose it.

I fundamentally disagree with the idea that recruiters should stay out of "vunerable" neighborhoods. People have free choice, and we should trust their intelligence enough to believe that they can make their own choices. No one is MAKING them join up. I went to a suburban high school where there were recruiters in the school every other week. If that is ok, then they should be able to recruit wherever they please.

This idea that the army is filled with poor idiots is one that I find patronizing and unacceptable, and often (though probably not with you Sarah) a result of individuals never having met an enlistedman or woman.

If a community really doesn't want recruiters, all the members have to do is not enlist, and the recruiters will move to a place where they can have better success.

Sarah said...

Right. I agree about choice. I also agree that many people see servicemen and -women as idiots. But I'm not sure about your argument here--the "choices" available in the poorest neighborhoods are not the nice array of choices available to me, and just because one option is in some ways better than the others doesn't mean there should be more options.

I have a lot of friends who joined for a variety of sound reasons, and even more who joined for the money and are now miserable. I also know that, at least in NYC, schools who can afford to keep recruiters out. Schools that can't (ie poorer schools) have to let them in.

I'd be much more okay with the idea of recruiting if I thought there were other truly viable options for poor students, or if there were a draft or mandatory service of some sort. As an example, some of my boyfriend's students told him at the beginning of the year that school wasn't worthwhile, that they were going into the army and would be sent to Iraq and then they could come home and get a good education, unless they were dead, in which case, at least they wouldn't be in a gang. Seriously. My best friend's boyfriend enlisted because he was told that he wouldn't need to do as well in school since he could go to any college he wanted afterwards, for free. Right. This may or may not be a systemic problem.

I also suspect that we probably have different ideas about the army in general, which is a whole other discussion.

Annie said...

Sarah- we probably do have fundamentally different ideas about the army, but there is just one point that I'd like to make.

There should be more choices for at-risk, low income, and other diasadvantaged youth. Absolutely. But I don't think that the paucity of other options means that the army isn't a viable option. I don't think that miltiary service is the solution to the nation's problems with poverty and education, but I do think that people should be aware of all of their options, as unpalatable as many of them may seem.

Do I know people who have had bad experiences in the army? Absolutely. I know people whose service has meant that they have not been able to finish a single semester of college, or that after retirement they've been pulled back in for another tour. Recruiters do sometimes lie, but the military is cracking down on that, and due to the prevalence of internet, television, and other media,it would be hard to argue that anyone is going into the military not knowing what the possibilities are.

Bottom line: we need recruits for a standing army. I think that more middle and upper-middle class kids should enlist, and while some do, the army can be a win-win, or at least win-tie situation for many disadvantaged kids. And they should have the option to choose that.