This past Monday, the Office of Career Services hosted a panel on careers in the military. Graduate students who had served in the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and Air Force spoke to current students, fellow military alumni, and military policy experts. The popularity of this event attests to the military’s heightened role on campus, after President Drew Faust welcomed back the Reserve Officer Training Corps earlier this year. This was a highly positive move, as the new policy reversed an antiquated antagonism against the military and better reflects where the University stands on the institution at this point in its history. In this context, the panel—and the military’s presence at other career fairs this year—reflects career counseling at its best, providing students with the resources to explore a variety of professional options.
The foremost goal of allowing on-campus information sessions or recruiting by any group, be they a non-profit, an investment bank, or the military, is to expose Harvard students to career options they do not fully understand. Indeed, whether freshman or senior, it is very difficult for students to conceive what working in a particular field is actually like, without the benefit of a family member in this area or a summer internship. Little things, like how much work one takes home, how typical contracts and benefits are structured, or whether the supply of jobs is concentrated in a particular geographic area, are issues that many students do not even know are important to investigate. In this vein, information sessions can be the make-or-break factor in whether students choose to seriously consider a particular field.
In this context, given that the military has not had as strong a presence on campus in past years, informational and recruiting events are very positive. The military is a career which many students may not have seriously considered or known very much about, so it is good that Harvard students learn the details of military careers so they can pursue one if they so choose. Thus, allowing military recruiting and including them in job fairs is entirely in line with the missions of OCS and Harvard as a whole, to prepare students for whatever career fulfills their individual passions.
However, we think that beyond the general benefits of giving students more options, more Harvard students entering the military will have positive effects on it as an institution. The military is lacking many progressive policies—for example, transgender individuals are currently not allowed to serve. We believe that changes to the military's culture and policy which make it more progressive and inclusive—like the recent repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, a policy which prevented soldiers from being openly gay—are more likely to happen if more Harvard graduates, who are generally more liberal then the rest of society, enter the military and gain a tangible stake in its future.
Furthermore, the military has traditionally drawn from a specific demographic: lower socioeconomic classes and minorities (although that may be changing). Harvard students as a whole tend to come from a higher socioeconomic class and be more representative of the US as a whole racially, so it is likely that more Harvard students entering the military will serve to make the military's demographics at least somewhat more representative. We recognize that the number of recruits Harvard will send to the military will be only a very small portion of the number of soldiers recruited each year, but we nonetheless think that even a small change in demographics is laudable.
We would caution, however, that as Harvard is a private and increasingly international institution, it would be unacceptable to give the US Military, or indeed any recruiter, an advantage over other employers. Harvard students should be exposed to many options, and every employer should be allowed to make their case, but none should be permitted a larger presence or louder voice then the others, as this could warp student's decisions. It is not the University's place to choose careers for their students, but rather to set the tone they wish, and then allow students their choice of career.