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Panel Debates Future of ROTC Ceremony

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Joining a debate that has inflamed campus politics since 1990, seven panelists last night discussed the Undergraduate Council's recent proposal to mandate the removal of the military's commissioning ceremony from the Yard during Commencement week.

The forum, held in Sever Hall, was sponsored by the Harvard Political Union and attended by about 50 people, including ROTC midshipmen and cadets, opponents and supporters of the council proposal, and members of Harvard's gay community.

Panelists shared their personal experiences and addressed whether the council proposal was designed to counter federal or Harvard policy.

"The question for the [council] was one of method, not one of accepting gays in the military," said Eric M. Nelson '99, a council member who opposed the proposal

Nelson said most members of the council who voted against the bill were not influenced by the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

According to Nelson, council members voiced opposition to Harvard expelling the ROTC commissioning ceremony from the Yard while continuing to accept federal defense funds.

The ceremony does not affirm ROTC or military policy, Nelson said. Rather, it supports the students who have committed time and effort to participate in ROTC during college.

Noah R. Freeman '98, a member of the council who backed the proposal, said the bill was not meant to punish cadets and midshipmen. But the expulsion of the ceremony from the Yard would be the "removal of a privilege" from a discriminatory organization.

Freeman added that the supporters of the bill in the council were not trying to change federal policy, but instead they wanted to make Harvard "more fair" by demanding that it enforce its non-discriminatory policy.

ROTC cadets and midshipmen said the ceremony pays tribute to their efforts.

Carmen M. O'Shea '97, a cadet in air force ROTC, said it would be "an affirmation of [her] hard work" to be commissioned into the military in Harvard Yard.

A former member of ROTC agreed with the sentiments expressed by O'Shea, adding that it is important to support ROTC students at America's liberal colleges because, as officers, they are more likely to change the military's discriminatory policy in the future.

"When general and admirals go to the President and say the policy should be changed, it will be," said Kurtis P. Wheeler '89, a captain in the marine reserve and student in the Graduate School of Education who served in Navy ROTC during his time as a Harvard undergraduate.

"You should be doing everything you can to encourage [ROTC participants at Harvard]," he said.

But Joshua L. Oppenheimer '97, the political chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Supporters' Alliance, said that keeping the ceremony on campus would be a "hurtful double standard," and that Harvard can and should affect change on a national level by expelling the ceremony.

For about 30 minutes after they presented their opinions, the panelists took questions from members of the audience.

The questions covered issues such as whether homosexuals in the military pose a threat to morale--which is the military's stated reason for the policy--and whether the members of the council who drafted the proposal researched it sufficiently beforehand.

Yet some members of the audience believed the forum was too short.

"A lot of things were glossed over," said Sharmi S. Modi '99, a cadet in air force ROTC who attended the discussion.

Andrew M. Leblanc, a first-year law student, agreed.

"Further discussion on the topic would do immense amounts of good," he said

Noah R. Freeman '98, a member of the council who backed the proposal, said the bill was not meant to punish cadets and midshipmen. But the expulsion of the ceremony from the Yard would be the "removal of a privilege" from a discriminatory organization.

Freeman added that the supporters of the bill in the council were not trying to change federal policy, but instead they wanted to make Harvard "more fair" by demanding that it enforce its non-discriminatory policy.

ROTC cadets and midshipmen said the ceremony pays tribute to their efforts.

Carmen M. O'Shea '97, a cadet in air force ROTC, said it would be "an affirmation of [her] hard work" to be commissioned into the military in Harvard Yard.

A former member of ROTC agreed with the sentiments expressed by O'Shea, adding that it is important to support ROTC students at America's liberal colleges because, as officers, they are more likely to change the military's discriminatory policy in the future.

"When general and admirals go to the President and say the policy should be changed, it will be," said Kurtis P. Wheeler '89, a captain in the marine reserve and student in the Graduate School of Education who served in Navy ROTC during his time as a Harvard undergraduate.

"You should be doing everything you can to encourage [ROTC participants at Harvard]," he said.

But Joshua L. Oppenheimer '97, the political chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Supporters' Alliance, said that keeping the ceremony on campus would be a "hurtful double standard," and that Harvard can and should affect change on a national level by expelling the ceremony.

For about 30 minutes after they presented their opinions, the panelists took questions from members of the audience.

The questions covered issues such as whether homosexuals in the military pose a threat to morale--which is the military's stated reason for the policy--and whether the members of the council who drafted the proposal researched it sufficiently beforehand.

Yet some members of the audience believed the forum was too short.

"A lot of things were glossed over," said Sharmi S. Modi '99, a cadet in air force ROTC who attended the discussion.

Andrew M. Leblanc, a first-year law student, agreed.

"Further discussion on the topic would do immense amounts of good," he said

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