Harvard President Drew G. Faust made waves last week when she stated that Harvard will officially recognize the Reserve Officers Training Corps upon the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—the policy that bans openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the United States military. Many objectors to the inclusion of ROTC on campus emphasize the shortcomings of the American military beyond DADT, such as its legacy of human rights violations. However, Harvard students are often encouraged to enter industries that they find flawed and to work within these fields in order to change them, and the military should be no different. As such, if the October injunction of the federal judge who ruled against DADT is not appealed by the U.S. Department of Justice—meaning openly gay soldiers could permanently serve in the military—Faust should follow through on her plans and recognize ROTC.
Those who assert that Harvard should not permit ROTC on campus frequently contend that recognizing it would mean endorsing an institution that engages in condemnable activities. These individuals believe Harvard should not recognize the military because it commits breaches of human rights and engages in wars with which they disagree. This claim, however, better reflects the attitudes of Harvard students who were here when Harvard’s ban initially began than the general outlook of students who are here today. The ban of ROTC in 1969 was a byproduct of the pervasive anti-war and anti-military sentiments among students on campus at the time. As Faust stated last week, she has upheld the ban because of the military’s discriminatory practices toward homosexuals, not because of anti-war or anti-military feelings on campus. To continue to ban ROTC based upon the perspectives that were prevalent during the Vietnam War would exclude ROTC because of the feelings of students who are no longer at Harvard.
Harvard and the Undergraduate Council recognize student groups and other organizations that are inclusive; if DADT is repealed, ROTC will fall into such a category and should be able to reap the benefits of Harvard recognition. Many Harvard students may find military service to be an important means of participating in public service, and having ROTC at Harvard would increase opportunities for those students who choose to join to give back to their country. As Faust has stated, all American students ought to have the option to do so.
Whether the military establishes a ROTC chapter on campus is out of Harvard’s hands, although Harvard should do everything it can to encourage that such a chapter flourishes, if one is ever reinstated. If the military stays, and permanently becomes more open, then the onus will be on Harvard to open itself up to ROTC.