One of the largest applause lines in the State of the Union was the moment when President Obama mentioned his success in repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly. The extended standing ovation for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not particularly surprising, given that it was one of Obama’s signature accomplishments, one of many that happened during last December’s lame duck session.
What was more surprising, however, was his next line calling for the reinstatement of Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (more commonly known as ROTC) programs back on college campuses. Several universities, including Harvard and Columbia, have banned ROTC programs on their campuses, many of them due to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Therefore, it’s quite logical for Obama to call for the return of ROTC programs on college campuses, considering that the policy has been repealed legislatively and that our country needs more highly skilled and trained personnel in the midst of war.
However, these colleges should not instantly heed Obama’s call to reinstate ROTC programs just yet. If these colleges are serious in their commitment to non-discrimination and making sure that all their college programs align with their policies, ROTC programs cannot be reinstated yet.
First, there is the issue with the implementation of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. The law that repealed the policy requires that any implementation of the law must have a Pentagon-approved plan, which could take months, if not more than a year, to obtain. Thus, gay and lesbian soldiers are currently still not able to serve openly, meaning that Columbia and Harvard’s reason to keep their bans is still justified.
Additionally, even with the successful repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the military still discriminates on the basis of gender. Women are barred from serving in some combat roles, even if they are just as physically and emotionally capable as men. Transgender individuals are also barred from the military, meaning that capable individuals who have a different gender identity than their biological sex cannot serve.
If these colleges are to be serious about making sure that their campus is a place of tolerance and free of discrimination, they must ask Obama to do more and to rectify these glaring injustices before reinstating ROTC programs on their campuses. Until the Pentagon signs off on a plan to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” discrimination based on sexual orientation is still in place. Furthermore, discrimination based on gender identity continues.
ROTC programs are great programs; they not only train our nation’s best and brightest to serve our country, they also instill many virtues and values such as integrity and honor. However, there is no integrity and honor in continued discrimination, and those colleges who ban ROTC programs must continue their push to ensure that American values of freedom and equality are actual policy in the Armed Forces.
Jon Wong is a UCI alumnus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.