For the first time in decades, Harvard hosted on Friday a “welcome reception” for students who are veterans, marking yet another step in the University’s recent efforts to repair relations with the military after nearly forty years of tension.
“We are very proud to welcome you to the Harvard family,” University President Drew G. Faust said in her opening remarks. “We are proud ... to claim each of you as our own ... We will continue to cultivate an environment in which military service is honored and rightly regarded as public service.”
The welcome, held in the majestic Loeb House ballroom, came a week and a half after Harvard celebrated the opening of an office for the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in the Student Organizations Center at Hilles.
ROTC withdrew from campus at the height of anti-Vietnam War protests in 1968 and was not recognized for nearly four decades. During that time students who wanted to participate in ROTC had to travel to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for physical training and courses in military science.
The University announced in March that it would officially recognize Naval ROTC after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
According to Faust, the University is still in the midst of discussions with the Army and Air Force branches of ROTC about reaching a similar agreement, though a timeline for their return has yet to be established.
“We hope we can have the kind of the arrangement with the other services that we have with the Navy,” University President Drew G. Faust said.
Several speakers said that though Harvard has historically been unwelcoming of the military, relations have improved in recent years, especially during Faust’s tenure. Critics have said that while recognition is a good first step, Harvard still has a ways to go in making cadets and veterans feel welcome on campus.
“That requires an attitude change,” said Capt. Paul E. Mawn ’63 USNR (Ret.), chairman of the Advocates for Harvard ROTC. “It’s not a problem in the senior administration, it is in the faculty and in the general perception of Harvard.”
Harvard Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood and other speakers urged veterans to share their experiences in the military with their fellow classmates and to listen to classmates with differing views on the military.
“There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the nature of military service, about the nature of American military service, and this is a remarkable opportunity to share your insights and ideas,” Ellwood said.
Speakers gave credit to Faust, who is descended from more than four generations of military service members, for the recent reconciliation between Harvard and the military.
“She has from day one put an emphasis on public service, broadly defined, including military service,” Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Gergen said. “She has restored military service to its rightful place at Harvard.”
Ellwood echoed these sentiments.
“No one has been more committed to the involvement veterans here at the university, and the reason we have ROTC here and the reason we are the first [Ivy League] university to reinstate it is because of her personal efforts and great energy involved,” Ellwood said.