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This Week in MIT History

By Katie Jeffreys

On March 13, 1990 The Tech reported that the MIT community, during the previous week’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Awareness Days (BGLAD), had petitioned against the Reserve Officers Training Corps’ policy which banned homosexuals from serving. The goal of the group, called Defeat Discrimination at MIT, was to encourage “the MIT Corporation to sever its ties to [the Reserve Officers Training Corps] by June 1994 unless ROTC ceases to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation” [“Students petition to allow gays in ROTC,” March 13, 1990]. This action sparked a debate involving the MIT community and the American government which has lasted until today. DDMIT recognized MIT’s ability to induce change because the MIT ROTC program is the oldest in the nation, and MIT has historically worked closely with the government in many areas of research.

The national policy on homosexuals in the military at the time stated, “The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct, or who by their statements demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission.” [“Students petition to allow gays in ROTC,” March 13, 1990]. This was in conflict with MIT’s Non-Discriminatory Policy, which protects MIT students, faculty, and staff from all discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation.

The protest wasn’t just a battle of morals, but one to support members of the MIT community. Robb L. Bettiker ‘90, for example, was disenrolled from the MIT Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps because he is gay and faced the possibility of repaying scholarships.

After gathering over 2,000 signatures and holding several public discussions, MIT formed a task force to explore the Institute’s options in the matter. The faculty later passed a resolution which said that “inadequate progress toward eliminating the [Defense Department’s] policy on sexual orientation will result in ... making ROTC unavailable to students beginning with the class entering in 1998” [“ROTC Ponders Future of Gays,” February 26, 1993]. MIT then created committees to lobby the government to change their policies. This administrative initiative is in contrast to Harvard University, which in 1995 simply discontinued funding of the ROTC program because of its discriminatory nature.

The issue received national attention when President Clinton promised to reverse the ban during his 1992 presidential campaign. The Department of Defense’s later issued the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy, which MIT held was still against the non-discrimination policy.

MIT has also received accolades for its work. This fall, Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, listed MIT as the fourth most politically active campus in the nation because of its efforts to include homosexuals in ROTC. Currently, appended to the non-discrimination policy is the statement: “The ROTC programs located on the MIT campus are operated under Department of Defense policies and regulations, and do not comply fully with MIT’s policy of nondiscrimination with regard to sexual orientation. On the recommendation of the faculty, MIT is working to develop a modified on-campus ROTC program open to all MIT students.”