By Jacquelyn Voghel | Editor-in-Chief
In response to President Trump’s executive order banning transgender individuals from serving in the military, RWU President Donald Farish has raised the possibility of “a campus discussion” with the power to end the university’s ROTC program.
Farish revealed this prospect as part of an all-student email sent out on Wednesday, Aug. 30, in which he wrote that the presence of an ROTC program on campus conflicts with the university’s commitment to non-discriminatory practices.
“It’s not the fault of the military, but they are now obliged to discriminate against transgender individuals, and we say we don’t stand for discrimination… so how do we reconcile the existence of ROTC on our campus with their values and ours?” Farish said to The Hawks’ Herald.
Junior Phoebe Thaler found Farish’s statement particularly meaningful as a trans student and coordinator of the campus’ P.E.A.C.E. Program, a social justice advocacy group.
“When I had a meeting with President Farish he said that ‘We cannot have a program that discriminates on a campus that does not’ and that he ‘will always pick the side of non-discrimination,’” Thaler said.
She continued, “Between those statements and the President’s strong willed letter on the first day of classes, I felt, as a trans student, that President Farish sees me, and that this university will have my back, even when the federal government does not.”
“In addition, it is always reassuring to know that RWU stands for equity on all fronts. In a climate where the federal government does not see value in such, it is crucial that President Farish explicitly state our universities stance. It is unfortunate to have a government that passes laws without considering the consequences.”
Along with other members of the P.E.A.C.E. Program, Thaler had previously sent a letter to Farish asking him to “become more of a visible presence on campus regarding issues of diversity, social justice, equity, and inclusion, so minoritized students feel that we are protected and supported by the university and that you, the president, have our back.”
As of last year, RWU had 27 students enrolled in its ROTC program. These students’ ROTC classes are held through the University of Rhode Island’s program.
Lt. Col. Brian Mehan, director of military science/ROTC at the University of Rhode Island, stated that the university’s ROTC program will “continue to treat everyone with dignity” as it holds classes and training as usual.
The program serves as a signifiant source of financial aid for enrolled students, as it pays for full tuition along with providing a stipend. Additionally, the program provides a pathway to becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces.
Farish stated that RWU has “at least a moral obligation” to financially protect students already enrolled in ROTC, and has also raised the possibility that current ROTC students may be allowed to complete the program. In this situation, additional students would not be allowed into the program, allowing it to phase out once current ROTC students have graduated.
Farish also said that RWU may “conceivably” make its program an exception to Trump’s executive order.
“None of these options are the perfect option,” Farish said. “They all have consequences, and we have to decide as a campus, which one do we want to live with?”