Colin Powell: The Issue is the Individual

I am writing in response to William Pike's support of General Colin Powell ("Powell Not a Bigot," April 21). I would like to argue that, contrary to Pike's opinion, the "issue" and the "individual" are inseparable in this instance, particularly given the timing and nature of his speech at Commencement. Powell's opinion that homosexuals should not be allowed in the military does reflect his attitude to all gays and lesbians since it is a statement that an individual's sexual orientation is a legitimate reason for denying him or her certain jobs or opportunities.

Mr. Pike also asserted that because the military is "the only way out for young people coming from bad schools and poor homes, who "are often intolerant of those unlike themselves," that General Powell's stance unjustifiable. First, simply because an individual comes from a low-income background does not mean that he or she will more likely be "intolerant," than one who is more wealthy and to say so is to make a generalization that is offensive to those of us in the community who are from such backgrounds. Secondly, it also dismisses the experiences of the many gay and lesbian young people from lower-income families who will never have the opportunity to join programs like ROTC or have a career in the military as a possible "way out" of their economic situations. Finally, it does not recognize that it is precisely leaders like General Powell who should be setting a standard for tolerance and expecting it of those who work with or under them.

This is not simply a matter of "free speech," as several members of the Faculty have pointed out. General Powell has been chosen to receive an honorary degree from our University--an honor that should only be given to those individuals the University feels should inspire us as we bring to a close our time here. While I recognize that Mr. Pike will most likely continue to disagree with my opinions, I hope he and others who agree with his stance understand why some of us will not be silent on this issue. Rachel J. Harris '93-94