Army’s Hispanic Access Initiative still draws some campus criticism

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A military recruiting plan that targets Latinos on college campuses like CSUN is still questioned by some campus leaders more than two years after the Army made its latest high-profile appearance on campus.

The purpose of the Hispanic Access Initiative is to produce more Latino leaders in the military so it could reflect the soaring Latino population in the United States, said Capt. Brian Johns of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program at CSUN.

“We want a representation of ethnic groups in the military,” Johns said.

ROTC at CSUN is an extension of UCLA’s program. The CSUN program is made up of 12 members, including three women, with all of them at the junior level or above.

The 1996 Solomon Amendment allows the Secretary of Defense to deny federal funding to institutions of higher learning if they prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus. When the university allowed ROTC on campus, one of the most significant considerations was the potential loss of an estimated $8 million a year in federal grant funding for a variety of federally funded programs, according to school officials.

The HAI was established in the late 1990s and endorsed by the Pentagon. It encourages ROTC programs to be implemented on campuses with a high minority population in order to the recruit more Hispanic soldiers.

“The ROTC created a lot of animosity amongst progressive faculty and students,” said Sirena Pellarolo, professor in the Modern and Classical Languages Department.

When the ROTC was brought to campus more than two years ago, she said groups initiated a number of protests to express their sentiments toward the impending war in Iraq.

Members of the Central American United Students Association, as well as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan created a politically-aware group called Students Against War, which was allied with a faculty-led group called CSUN United for Peace and Justice.

“After (the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks), a lot of faculty and students started to get together and talk about U.S. foreign policy and aggressive reaction against what had happened in New York and Washington,” Pellarolo said.

A peace walk was organized by faculty and students to protest against the likelihood of war, she said.

“A group of faculty went to speak to the President (Jolene Koester),” Pellarolo said. “She mentioned to them that there was nothing she could do because (CSUN) received money” for federally funded programs that could be affected by not allowing ROTC on campus.

She said having ROTC on campus in exchange for money is bribery.

“I think that a university president should have the resources to tap into other funding,” she said.

Upon being told Koester’s reasoning for keeping ROTC on campus, which included the benefits of having an opportunity for discussion and debate about the nature of the war and military recruiting practices, Pellarolo said she finds Koester’s reasoning invalid.

“I think it’s just an excuse,” she said. “It’s a way of justifying a very lame moral. The debate is already there. We don’t need to have ROTC on campus.”

Karina Ceja, senior Chicano/a Studies major and member of CSUN M.E.Ch.A., said she feels that the ROTC uses federal funding as a recruiting tactic to be stationed at high schools and universities.

“They’re offering money that the university needs because of budget cuts,” she said.

Ceja said she believes that the university really does not want ROTC on campus, but that school officials are forced to accept them because of the funding they could lose if they don’t.

David Crandall, general manager of Associated Students, said the activism by students and faculty against the ROTC has ties to another war era.

“When I think about ROTC on campus, I think about the Vietnam era,” Crandall said.

He said there was concern back in 2002 and 2003 about recruitment and there are issues now with the war in Iraq as it is currently being handled.

“Whenever we target a group of people to do something that they don’t want to do on their own, I have a problem with that,” Crandall said, reinforcing that his views about the ROTC are purely his personal belief and are in no way associated with A.S.

According to Johns, current CSUN cadets signed up for the military because they wanted to get involved. There are two Latinos, five whites, two Filipinos, two Asians and one Indian in CSUN ROTC, according to Johns.

“I definitely want to see an accurate representation (of the population in the military),” he said, adding that the Army does not want to recruit anyone who does not want to be there.

“Joining the military is voluntary,” Johns said. He called the accusation that the U.S. Army is bent on sending minorities off to die overseas “ludicrous.” “(Individuals) want to join because they want to serve. They don’t just join because they’re forced to.”

When asked if a plan to focus on recruiting white students would be considered racist, Ceja said it would raise the same issues as HAI does.

“There shouldn’t be an agenda at all,” Ceja said. “They shouldn’t be recruiting one specific ethnic group if they consider themselves non-racist and non-discriminatory.”

Ceja said there is something unethical behind the HAI because the ROTC is targeting a certain race, even though it’s not anything new. She said she believes that ROTC’s presence is not necessary on college campuses.

“We’re (students) here because we want to be here,” Ceja said. “We don’t want to go to the military. We could have taken that position during high school.”

Johns said the two reasons why the ROTC is at CSUN is because of the large population of Latino students and because people at CSUN are interested in the military.

“We don’t target anyone,” Johns said. “I’m not a recruiter. We will wait for people to approach us.”

Johns said he feels the individuals that believe the HAI is racist are ignorant and uninformed about the military.

“If the military is racist, why would they recruit Hispanics to be leaders?” Johns said.

“If any student wants to participate in leadership, they can enroll in our leadership class,” Johns said. ROTC also teaches time management and stress classes, as well as conducting physical training on Mondays and Wednesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Pellarolo said she does not think ROTC is beneficial to CSUN students.

Pellarolo said she and her faculty colleagues did not like the fact that there is a program on campus that actively prepares any student for war.

“The goals of ROTC on campus are totally counter to what we do at the university,” she said.

Before coming to CSUN, Master Sergeant Michael Vital of CSUN ROTC attended a university in Laredo, Texas. Vital said a large number of people in Laredo are Hispanic. Those who joined the military have no problem going into the institution, Vital said.

“Why people play the race card is silly. It shouldn’t be a factor,” Vital said.

Vital said the military does not discriminate against students. Individuals put on a uniform that is one color, which is green, he said.

Crandall said joining the Army becomes an economic decision for those individuals who do not have many economic options.

“The Army is often a place where they can get a job,” he said.

“They say they want to train officers, but at the same time, when those individuals do become officers, they will be leading the minorities on the front lines,” Ceja said.

Cynthia Ramos can be reached at cmr70871@csun.edu.