At this point, two main issues with bringing ROTC back to Columbia’s campus are the notion that the military recruits or “preys” on people in low-income areas, and that the military still discriminates in its policies against transgender soldiers. I disagree with the first of these claims, but the latter shows that there are real problems with America’s military. Fixing those issues is one of the main reasons Columbia should allow its students to join the military by bringing ROTC back to campus.
As for the claim that the military “preys” on low-income students, this is very true in one sense. The military does recruit in low-income areas. However, as someone who grew up in a low-income neighborhood with one of the highest homicide rates in the country, I can tell you that the military is the best place for many of these kids. Some students, like many in my old school district, will never graduate. Some of my friends made it out on their own, but the rest are mostly mixed up in gangs and drugs, in jail, or have passed away—like a junior at my high school who was killed in a shooting over winter break. The military gives some individuals the opportunity to get out and go to college and live steady lives. In my experience, the kids that have really turned their lives around are the ones that have gone through the military. There is the risk that they may not make it through the military. But if they do, I know from experience that they almost never go back to lives of crime or drugs.
Another more contentious issue surrounding the Columbia ROTC debate is the transgender issue. Recently, the military repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a discriminatory policy that prevented homosexual soldiers from disclosing their sexuality. However, despite the change in DADT policy, the military has decided not to include transgender individuals in the repeal. There are practical reasons for this decision, but I believe it is wrong to discriminate in the military and that anyone who is willing to fight should be able to defend America.
That being said, while I agree with most on the immorality of the transgender issue, I do not agree with the way many Columbia students want to fix the problem. They advocate for abstaining from any military involvement whatsoever, but there is no way that this will change the military’s policies. The military will get its officers either way, and one liberal arts college abstaining from participation is not going to be enough to make the military change its policies. The people that change policy are the people like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, two champions of repealing DADT. The way to change the military is to put open-minded people into positions where they can reform the institution and allow them to change the system from within.
Some Columbians say they do not want to change the military—that they just want to protect Columbia students from its transgender bias. But whether or not we want to protect members of our transgender community, we are still part of and have a responsibility to protect a larger American community. Whether or not we save Columbia’s transgender students from being discriminated against, we are still leaving the rest of America’s citizens out to dry. If we only care about the safety of Columbia’s transgender community, then yes, maybe we should wait until the military allows all Americans to serve. But, if we accept our responsibility and role as conscientious people and America’s future leaders, we should bring ROTC back to Columbia and start injecting intelligent, open-minded leaders into the military, in hope that they will be able to change policy.
The author is a first-year in Columbia College.