Speaking Out

ROTC: Query on Guarantees

I would very much like to know how the University plans to fulfill its commitment to non-discrimination against lesbians and gays at Penn, now that you have decided to continue the discrimination that occurs through your own office in the Military Science and Naval Science Departments. At University Council (Almanac, April 30, 1996), you stated:

"...we are very concerned about the fate of the individual students who find themselves in the situation in which being members of ROTC and declaring that they are gay or lesbian, find themselves ousted or removed from the program. Many of those students have scholarships from ROTC, and we have undertaken to guarantee that such students will be able to continue at Penn. The actions of ROTC with respect to its members for that reason and other reasons should not affect the ability of students in the program to continue in our program, and we intend to make certain that is the case."

Your remarks to Council also indicated that you have approached your talks with the Pentagon concerning ROTC's status at Penn with the idea that Penn would permit the two academic departments that are under your direct supervision to continue to discriminate should the military decide not to voluntarily accept changes. As Dr. Gross noted in his response, there was no reason to anticipate that the military would accept those changes because they were disadvantageous to the Army and Navy. Thus one should be able to assume that you did anticipate the military's logical reaction, and have spent the last 18 months formulating a policy that would address the needs of lesbians and gays who are subject to the irrational homophobia of military which your office supports.

Sadly, this is not merely an academic question. I have been asked by someone to find out what Penn's policy is toward lesbian and gay students where ROTC is concerned. For reasons that should be obvious, this individual desires total anonymity. Thus I am unable to provide you with any specific details regarding the situation of this individual. However, by responding to the below general questions, you will be able to answer the concerns of the individual, as well as outline to the entire University community the real level of commitment to Penn's non-discrimination policy that the University has. A prompt response is necessary, as this individual needs to make decisions as soon as possible concerning his/her actions.

  1. ROTC currently supplies scholarships and stipends to freshman and sophomores without requiring any commitment to the Armed Forces. Will LGB students be provided with the equivalent level of financial aid, without any commitment?

  2. ROTC scholarships and stipends are not "need based". Will the same level of financial aid to LGB students be provided on the same basis?

  3. What level of commitment to a homosexual orientation will be required before a student qualifies for your "guarantee"? Will a student be able to say they think they might be gay to one person in the Penn bureaucracy? Or will they have to be provide a list of reasons why they believe they qualify? Will the University investigate students' claims to qualify for the "guarantee," or will it accept those claims at face value? Will these claims become a part of the student's record?

  4. For many LGBs, the coming out process is emotionally devastating, and this can be particularly true of LGB students who have envisioned a military career, and find themselves caught between their goals for the future, and intellectual and personal honesty and integrity. Many LGBs who are in ROTC programs would want to leave the programs, yet have not achieved the level of self acceptance necessary to tell either their ROTC commanders or a University bureaucrat the true reason for their resignation from the program. Will students who decide to leave ROTC for any reason be eligible for the "guarantees" that you have promised to provide? Or will LGB students who are taking the first steps toward self acceptance be forced to choose between

    A) living a lie in ROTC and actively defrauding the federal government until such time as they are emotionally secure enough to "come out", or
    B) suffering the emotionally devastating consequences of admitting that they are "not normal" to strangers in the Penn bureaucracy who are not trained to handle such a disclosure in an appropriate manner in order to qualify for the "guarantee"?

  5. Ten years ago, the University refunded Peter Laska's tuition to the Navy, then charged Laska for his full semester's tuition without prior notification. If a student was being harassed out of NROTC in the manner Laska was, what would the University's response be? How will the University deal with ROTC and NROTC students and "instructors" who participate in/acquiesce to the harassment and intimidation of students who are suspected of being lesbian or gay?

Please note that it is important is that the individual in question be provided with accurate information regarding what the University will and will not do for LGBs who believed in Penns commitment to fair and equal treatment of lesbians and gays. Anything other than a prompt and complete response to these issue could have devastating personal consequences for the individual, and could serve to add further to the individual's dilemma.

Paul Lukasiak, Staff Member, Center for the Study of Youth Policy

Response to Mr. Lukasiak

In my remarks to the University Council, I enunciated the general policy the University would follow in dealing with cases in which a student was dropped from one of the ROTC units and lost his or her scholarship because of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. Since this is a profound, personal experience, we are committed to respond to each individual facing it and its related financial implications on an individual basis. In addition, my office is ready to assist any student enrolled in an ROTC program, who is coping with this decision to find appropriate levels of guidance and support including services available through the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life.

Finally, I have met with the leaders of our campus ROTC units and have made it clear that harassment our students is unacceptable. They have made it equally clear that they interpret the "don't ask/don't tell" policy literally and are preparead to take the appropriate disciplinary actions against members of their corps who engage in harassment.

Stanley Chodorow, Provost


Volume 42 Number 34
June 18, 1996

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