This fall, LeTicia Brown, SEAS ’14, wanted to move into her dorm room in the Living and Learning Center a week before Columbia’s New Students Orientation Program to take part in Fordham University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps orientation.
But, according to Brown, when Fordham’s ROTC program contacted Columbia to make arrangements, Columbia informed them the room wasn’t ready and that Brown couldn’t move in. She stayed at Fordham for the duration of their orientation week.
“It was a huge inconvenience,” Brown said, adding that it was particularly frustrating because she already knew people who had moved in early to participate in other pre-orientation programs, such as COOP.
Brown, who comes from an army family, is one of seven Columbia students currently participating in the army ROTC program at Fordham this year. The program pays for her school, and in return she has agreed to serve in the army for four years after graduation.
Jose Robledo, GS and an ROTC cadet who oversees training for all 52 cadets in Manhattan, said this is just one instance of the University failing to provide proper support to students participating in ROTC.
“When this is something that she wants to make a life-long decision on and she can’t move in early, it’s discouraging,” Robledo said. “There should be no reason why being an ROTC cadet on campus should be a reason for feeling marginalized, stigmatized, or feeling shame because the University doesn’t support you.”
Scott Wright, executive vice president of student and administrative services, said that he was not aware of any ROTC student being refused early housing. Generally when a student needs to move into housing earlier than 48 hours in advance of the normal move-in date, “their request is typically reviewed by Housing and Residential Programs and accommodations are offered,” Wright said.
But Robledo’s main concern is that the University doesn’t recognize ROTC as a student group, which he partly chalks up to the small number of cadets at Columbia. Without the same recognition granted to other student groups, ROTC members do not have the ability to reserve space on campus.
Robledo added that the recent discussion on whether or not to bring ROTC back on campus is irrelevant because the program is already here.
“ROTC has never actually left … There are cadets at Columbia who are in ROTC,” he said. “We want support from the University.”
If the program could reserve space at Columbia, it would make it easier for students to participate in ROTC, Robledo said. ROTC does do some remedial physical training on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Dodge, though it cannot officially claim meeting places.
On average, he estimated that for every hour of training, each cadet has to allot two hours for travel time to where the program is based downtown. Because of this, Robledo said that an average cadet needs to put aside about 14 additional hours a week for ROTC. Brown said she spends about $15 a week on travel expenses for her ROTC program alone.
Columbia cadets say that the University could make some accommodations to ease these additional burdens. For Robledo, it would help if Columbia allowed ROTC cadets to count their training toward the physical education graduation requirement.
Brown agreed. “Even though it isn’t much, I think it would still help a lot,” she said, adding that “it’s [Columbia’s P.E. requirement] just one more thing to try to fit into my schedule.”
But Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis said such a policy is already on the books.
She noted that last year, the Committee on Instruction and the head of physical education decided to allow cadets to satisfy their requirements through ROTC training. Still, she added that unless a cadet self-identifies to Columbia as a ROTC cadet, the University does not know they are participating in the program and they are not exempt from the requirement.
Ultimately, Robledo said that he hoped the University would separate the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—what he described as one of the “bad military decisions that were made by politicians and not military leaders”—from the spirit of the service. The school needs to realize that cadets need the same access to campus space as other student groups, he said.
Though the number of ROTC students at Columbia may “never swell,” Robledo said, “they could grow.”