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May 19th, 2009
06:23 AM ET

Banned from Harvard

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Some students want the Reserve Officers Training Corps to be recognized at Harvard, forty years after it was banished from campus."]
From CNN's Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

A small group of dedicated Harvard undergraduates could be America's future leaders; not in its boardrooms or briefing rooms, but on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.

For the moment, these young military cadets are fighting a different kind of battle. They want the Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC, to be recognized at Harvard, forty years after it was banished from campus. One thing standing in their way: the U.S. military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on homosexuals.

In April, 1969, student demonstrators set fire to an ROTC classroom and campus sentiment against the Vietnam War led to the Harvard faculty's banning the organization. Forty years later, the ROTC is still banished from Harvard.

Today, neither Vietnam nor the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan keep the ROTC off limits at Harvard. According to the University's student handbook, the military's policy on gays " inconsistent with Harvard's values as stated in its policy on discrimination."

The 29 Harvard students enrolled in the ROTC must take their training courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their ROTC courses do not give them academic credit and they are not given financial aid to cover them.

Joe Kristol, a graduating senior and marine cadet, says it's time for Harvard to change.

"I think that what we're looking for is the college to separate the issues and be able to recognize and support ROTC on the one hand; on the other hand do whatever they want to protest policies they may not agree with, but not to punish the students and use them as their tool to make that political statement."

Kristol and three other cadets - Roxanne Bras, Shawna Sinnott and Christi Morrissey - say the policy is not in line with how most Harvard students feel about the ROTC.

Sinnott says most students actually do favor bringing ROTC back to campus. "I think a lot of that does have to do with the presence we've had on campus even though there's less than 30 of us, we're still able to provide that bridge between military and academia."

"For a lot of people you're sort of a novelty," she adds.

But not all students want the ROTC to return without a change in the military's policy on gays. Marco Chan, one of the co-chairs of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, acknowledges that the cadets are inconvenienced by the university's ban.

At least, he says, they have the choice to serve in the military. "What's not often covered is the fact that queer students don’t have that choice at all. There’s not a choice of oh, I guess I'll be inconvenienced and participate in this program. They simply can't."

Filed under: Education • Gay Rights • Military
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. jb1879


    May 20, 2009 at 7:29 am |
  2. Brian

    First of not all of the ROTCs are cadets. They should note that some are midshipmen as well for the NROTC students. Second as Wes has stated it is a federal government policy. If you have something against it, talk to your congressmen and senators because they are the ones who implement that policy. Don't punish the students who want to make a difference and put on a uniform. They use the funding they get as a means to get an education and choose Harvard to get that education. Don't rob them of that opportunity. Finally, the "Don't ask, Don't tell, Don't harass, Don't pursue" Policy does not forbid homosexuals from service. It's true that there are homosexuals in the services, they just can't let it be known during their time of service and no one can pursue it like people tend to think we do to "run gays out." Yeah that doesn't happen and if it does that person is held accountable for their actions. Bottom line: Don't punish these future MILITARY officers because of a difference in ideology from those who hold POLITICAL office.

    May 19, 2009 at 1:48 pm |
  3. Charles


    You are the one that needs to get on board. The rest of the country is, your liberal President is neither in favor of gay marriage nor of getting rid of don't ask, don't tell (which, for what its worth, I agree is a ridiculous policy).

    This isn't an issue of gays in the military, it's just another excuse that Harvard, and other Ivys, uses to simple state "we don't want ROTC on campus." The real reason is that they don't see military service as important to this nation.

    May 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  4. Wes

    I wish someone in the news media would get the facts straight for a change - 'don't ask don't tell' is not a ROTC policy or a DOD policy, it is a law passed in 1993.

    May 19, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  5. dedekusn

    Its Ok,... Yes...

    May 19, 2009 at 7:51 am |
  6. Richard

    The The ROTC, the military, the government need to get on the same page as the majority of the citizens of this country...
    The days of discrimination against gay individuals is over...
    It's time to take the old mentality of our parents and wash it away forever....
    It is wrong and it is time for it to stop...period...

    May 19, 2009 at 7:07 am |