If only Congress could do what Gettysburg College did this past spring: confront a controversy with respect and civility, forge a solution, and shake hands across the aisle. We even shed a few tears of pride — because it was students who led the way.
Decades ago, the Army withdrew Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instruction from Gettysburg as part of a consolidation of programs. Our students could still enroll in ROTC at Dickinson. However, the military’s rejection of gays and lesbians, and subsequent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, ran counter to Gettysburg’s values: we welcome all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. Accordingly, our faculty ruled against academic credit for ROTC — despite its rigor and benefits to our nation — because the program discriminated against some members of our community.
The decision embodied our community’s support for gay and lesbian individuals. But what about our ROTC cadets? How could we not recognize their hard work and dedication? This was our conundrum. Even after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, a majority of our faculty voted against reinstating credit because of the military’s continued ban on transgendered and transsexual individuals.
Our debate resurfaced when we learned that all students are permitted to take ROTC courses, including those whom the military will not accept. The turning point came when a faculty member challenged our ROTC cadets and the student members of Allies(which supports gay, lesbian, transgendered, and transsexual individuals) to work towards an agreement. The students took that charge to heart and crafted a proposal far beyond any previously considered by our faculty: restore credit for military science courses, proclaim that such action in no way endorses the military’s stance, and provide all students with formalized opportunities to debate exclusionary military policies.
Our students balanced commitment to military service with commitment to equal rights; they demonstrated that community can accommodate civil debate, and indeed be strengthened by it. They discerned that the gap between their perspectives was not as wide as it first seemed. The faculty resoundingly approved their motion. And that’s when some tears of pride were shed.
Our students learned what a liberal arts community teaches best: civility, creative problem-solving, and leadership. I cannot help but think that whether they enter the military or pursue other careers, these students will have a positive impact on our nation. I wish I could elect them to Congress today.
Janet Morgan Riggs ’77
P.S. A new look and some new features make their debut in this issue of Gettysburg. We welcome your feedback at email@example.com
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Posted: Fri, 31 Aug 2012
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