If the fliers, op-ed pieces, and general media frothing about ROTC on campus haven’t swayed your opinion in time for the CCSC-produced survey next Monday, on Wednesday night a moderated panel pitted pro against con ROTC factions in Sulzberger Parlor. (Not the same event in the flier pictured at right, but we couldn’t get a snapshot of the debaters.) Each side laid out its main talking-points without introducing too many new facets, and while the debaters were impassioned, all were well-behaved.
On the anti-ROTC side of table, Aries de La Cruz, GS’09, of the Columbia Queer Alliance, Ira Stup, JTS’10, of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, Rahel Aima, CC’10, of Students for a Democratic Society and the Columbia Coalition Against the War, and Lucha’s Rudi Batzell, CC’09, explained that the debate was “plain and simple.” Their side does not support the “homophobic, racist, and sexist” institution of the military, they said, although Stup mentioned repeatedly that Columbia students are free to participate in ROTC programs at other schools–albeit not NROTC, the Naval division.
On the pro-ROTC side, self-identified gay veterans Scott Stewart, GS, and Justin Johnson, SIPA; Kelley Victor-Gaspar, CC’09, who will be commissioned as a Marine officer in May; and Kate O’Gorman, BC’10, a member of the College Democrats executive board although she was merely representing herself, all agreed that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a discriminatory policy. They support ROTC on campus, they said, for various reasons: It will encourage progressive and pro-gay officers, it will provide students with more scholarship opportunities, and it will improve the “diversity of thought” at Columbia.
Current SGA president Sarah Besnoff, BC’09, moderating, for the most part kept both sides in check and dealt squarely with the occasional heated student at the microphone during the audience question part of the forum.
At times, the argument from both sides of the debate went down strange logical paths, dotted merrily by strategies verging on the ad hominem: “I could give you the phone number of a couple of gay guys serving right now,” fumed one pro-ROTC panelist. Analogies, categories, metaphors, premises–all were mixed and twisted, often unsuccessfully. Justin Johnson refused to acknowledge any analytical difference in the Red Cross’ ban on homosexuals giving blood and the Armed Forces’ DADT. Rahel Aima compared the enforced adherence to military standards in the ROTC to forcing everyone who reads the Symposium to engage in pedophilia. Kate O’Gorman urged Columbia to “negotiate a treaty” with the military that would be gay-friendly.
Perhaps worse was each side’s use of unsourced facts: various statistics about gays and women in the military, obscure bits of Columbia lore (John Jay was once called “USS John Jay” because it produced so many Navy men?), occasional allusions to the powers of the military and executive, and fleeting references to federal and military laws by both sides all seemed culled from merely summary research, at best.
But it was a success, said students in attendance, including CCSC VP for Policy Adil Ahmed, CC’09, who organized the forum and has been “spearheading” the survey. The sour grapes of the evening went to Rajat Roy, SEAS’10, a University Senator for ESC, who said that the other leaders had “really screwed up” by focusing on undergraduates and limiting the survey’s questions. Instead, he said, look for a new two-question survey–aimed at both graduate students and undergraduate students–in the next week or so. The first question, he said, will be whether students want ROTC on campus as it currently stands, and the other will be whether students would support its presence if the military dropped its Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which looks likely under the Obama administration.