Bwog Daily Editor James Downie reports from tonight’s anti-NROTC panel.
Apologies to those commenters who requested a liveblog — I felt this was one issue where I might want to make especially sure my notes were accurate. Regardless, those who did not join the 50 or so students in Lerner Cinema earlier tonight did not miss huge amounts of drama.
The event itself was in fact a relatively cordial affair, though by the end of the two hours audience members had clearly begun to chafe at having to stay silent during the Q&A. The panel was introduced by Aditya Mukerjee (CC ’12) of the Dems and Ryan Kasdin (CC ’09) of EAAH: Professor David Eisenbach, Ph.D. candidate Manuel Schwab, and Washington Heights activist Claudia de la Cruz. All were against the return of NROTC to campus – the panel, to quote its organizers, was designed as “con panel,” meant to present a larger number of negative effects if NROTC were to return to campus. The event certainly suceeded in widening the field of criticism – while Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was part of the conversation, the event often focused on accusations of sexism, classism, and racism in the military.
Eisenbach went first, and was the only panelist to make DADT his central argument against NROTC. While not directly challenging the argument that NROTC departed campus because of the Vietnam War, he sought to provide some historical background to show that the gay struggle against discrimination in the military was just as old. He cited Stephen Donaldson, founder of what is now the CQA, who spoke out while at Columbia against the military’s discrimination policy (before testing it directly by joining the Navy).
The second speaker was Manuel Schwab, a 4th year Ph.D. candidate who attacked the military on several levels, including class, geographic, and race discrimination. He cited the low numbers of minority officers in the military, as well as the overwhelming attention on lower-class and minority students (although, with respect to race, the America military is in fact more white than the country as a whole).
The final speaker, Claudia de la Cruz, used her experience with Da Urban Butterflies and the Dominican Women’s Youth Development Center to criticize of the military’s focus on poor neighborhoods, especially in her home of Washington Heights. But she was harshest in declaring the military a “sexist” institution: “To truly understand the military, we need to look at how militaries use women as bait.”
The Q&A remained calm, though at times contentious. The first question was about what other things Columbia has done to oppose DADT. Eisenbach admitted that he could not think of any, but that Columbia “should be doing stuff to oppose it.”
The second question came from a female Army ROTC member, who took issue with De la Cruz’s description of a “sexist” military. The ROTC member described her time in the military as empowering. De la Cruz responded that she had encountered many stories of sexism in her work with Latina veterans, and suggested that the questioner hadn’t found sexism because she was white.
Another question came from a student concerned about the cultural effects on Columbia as a “safe space” for homosexuals. Eisenbach agreed that “it would be a problem,” and said that Bill O’Reilly would use this as a way to ridicule Columbia’s professors. Unfortunately, he didn’t offer any specific examples on the campus itself.
The last question asked whether the military was doing anything to oppose DADT, since it is a federal, not military policy. Eisenbach said that the military in fact was now 60-70% againt DADT, including senior officers like former chairmen of the Joint Chief John Shalikashvili. He said “now it is up to the politicans to end it,” and expressed hope that Barack Obama would do so with the even more Democratic congress. The evening came to a close, with no one persuaded, but maybe some a little more enlightened.