by Damon Suden
Does the following passage sound familiar to any of you? "It [MIT] does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, or national or ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, employment policies, scholarship and loan programs, and other Institute administered programs and activities..." Well, it should. It's MIT's statement of nondiscrimination, and with all the controversy over whether ROTC should stay or go, I think many have lost sight of this simple statement. It spells out quite distinctly what MIT stands for, or at least what it purports to stand for, and leaves no room for exceptions or provisos. However, ROTC, a program clearly administered by the Institute, somehow manages to violate the above policy in several respects and remain happily on our campus. MIT's charter specifies that it must offer military training on campus and it has done so since its first classes were offered back in 1865. ROTC came into existence in 1916 and was adopted on the MIT campus, as it was on many others. It wasn't until the late 1970's, however, that MIT added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. Even at that time, the administration knew that ROTC and the Department of Defense (DOD) would violate the Institute's newly adopted policy. They reluctantly allowed ROTC to be the exception and thereby enabled discrimination to remain on our campus while claiming to be against it. In 1989, an ad hoc committee was set up to investigate the relationship between MIT and ROTC, including the issue of the obvious discrepancy between the MIT nondiscrimination policy and the DOD policy of discrimination based on sexual preference. The committee consisted of three faculty, three administrators, the head of Army ROTC at MIT at the time, and two students -- one of whom was in ROTC. By October 1989, the majority of the committee had concluded that ROTC and its programs are "a benefit to MIT and the nation." However, in an apparent strike of conscience they also said MIT should play a "leading role in attempting to change objectionable policies." The minority opinion of this committee called for a severing of ties with ROTC because they did not find that ROTC was useful or beneficial to MIT, so long as the DOD excluded queers. They said MIT "cannot continue to make exceptions with regard to such vital community standards." The committee also recognized that in the past MIT has had "influential" effects on changing ROTC policy, both on this campus and nationwide. If you ask me, kicking ROTC off of campus and telling ROTC and the DOD to go screw themselves would send a loud and clear message across the country that MIT finds their homophobic policies not only "objectionable," but utterly intolerable. This would most certainly be a "leading role," and you can be guaranteed that everyone from ROTC officers on other campuses to the upper-ups in the DOD would start to pay attention. But then again, why would MIT want to risk upsetting the military-types just for a bunch of queers? It is almost impossible to even consider that MIT might actually be willing to threaten the status quo of the military establishment, just over the issue of equity, prejudice, discrimination, and civil rights, when so many more important things like reputation, favor with the DOD, and of course funding from the military would be put into question. That would be too...virtuous. And so here we are in 1995, and ROTC is still allowed to function on our campus. However, this could all change very soon. On May 16, 1990 the MIT faculty gave overwhelming support to a resolution which urged an evaluation of any changes in DOD policy after five years. They further recommended that if ROTC was still in conflict with MIT's policy, it would no longer be offered, starting with the class of 1998. This was a courageous move on the part of the MIT faculty. Now, five years later, a task force is being set up and in about six months it will give a recommendation to the president on what course of action would be best to take. A major point of discussion will most likely be the new "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy implemented by President Clinton. (see sidebar, "How is Clinton's Plan Working? Don't Ask...") From my point of view there isn't much to discuss considering that this policy, although well-intentioned, is in violation of one's freedom of speech and thereby unconstitutional. Of course, the Supreme Court will make the final decision on this -- and that's a topic for another article. Either way, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" still prohibits out, practicing queers from joining ROTC, which is still in opposition to MIT policy. ROTC conflicts with that policy in several other lesser known areas as well. For instance, ROTC requires testing for HIV and then will dismiss you if you test positive. Being that having HIV is considered a disability, the above ROTC practice can be more commonly known as discriminating on the basis of disability, which just happens to appear in MIT policy as well. It does not take a task force or a committee to realize that ROTC, as long as it refuses to admit queers, is in direct conflict with MIT's purported policy of equality for all. The decision to sever ties with ROTC will not be easy for some, but keeping ROTC on campus embodies the antithesis of what MIT is all about. Students at MIT should not have to experience discrimination based on who they are or how they choose to live their lives. MIT should not tolerate any individual, group, or organization that does so. Doing so breeds hatred, which is not a family value, nor is it a value that I want on this campus. Back in 1990, the MIT president, as well as several other university officials, wrote a letter to then Secretary Dick Cheney asking the DOD to review its ban on homosexuals, citing that there were several compelling reasons for the change. In the letter, then MIT Provost John Deutch (who was later Undersecretary of Defense when the ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was put forth), during a rare moment of sensibility, likened the current ban to similar bans made in the past on Blacks and women. It has been argued in the past that the presence of Blacks and women in the military would cause disunity among the soldiers, lower morale, and lead to ultimate military failure. Now, it's time for queers to stand up against the onslaught of utterly idiotic claims and accusations. How can queers and straights work and shower and sleep in such tight quarters... together? Well, perhaps if it were the homophobes, rather than the homosexuals, who were thrown out of the military, everyone would get along just fine - just a thought. But the DOD saw no reason to re-evaluate their policy. The fact that it is wrong, based on stereotypes and falsities, and only serves to perpetuate unneeded hatred in this country did not cross their minds. They made mistakes in excluding Blacks and women, but this time they're right. How silly of us to think otherwise. If anyone out there in administrator land is reading this, I ask you to re-read the passage at the beginning of this article, then look at ROTC and the DOD and ask yourself if their policies are in any way coherent with MIT's. Then you must decide which you hold more dear. Will you support an organization so entrenched in discrimination, hatred, homophobia, and still, to a large extent, racism and sexism? Or will you realize that, although the situation may get ugly and problems may arise, ROTC currently has no place on the MIT campus. Whoever is in charge of making the final decision should take a stand for what's right, for that little passage that appears in the back of the course bulletin that has apparently been forgotten. That simple ideal was one reason I came to MIT, and to destroy that ideal for the sake of ROTC would be a shame. We provided military training without ROTC before 1916 and if it is so necessary, I'm sure we could do it again. I take offense to an organization which would exclude me because of who I choose to love and have sex with. Queers should be given the same opportunities and be held up to the same standards as everyone else in the military, and everywhere else for that matter. Until that day arrives, ROTC needs to make its home elsewhere.