Diversity in the United States Armed Forces has always been a contentious issue; debates about the inclusion of women and ethnic minorities have been raging since the Revolutionary War, and the recent repeal of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has ignited a new flame in the debate about the importance of diversity in inclusiveness in the military. Two officers in the United States Military, Col. Maritza Ryan of the U.S. Army and Col. James Durant of the U.S. Air Force, participated in a panel discussion on Sept. 26 in the Days-Massolo Center, discussing the evolution of diversity in the history of the military.
Durant spoke first, and dealt with diversity as it refers to military policies regarding racial integration of African Americans. The U.S., Carter said, is in the process of undergoing a tremendous demographic shift, and by the year 2042, the United States will be a nation where today’s minorities are the new majority. Carter believes that it is important for the makeup of the military to reflect the makeup of the the U.S. population, and said that we will be strongest if we draw on all of our human resources, regardless of race or ethnic descent.
The main, growing minority groups today are Hispanic Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders, but the majority of the struggle for racial integration in the military has been fought, over the years, by African American troops. African Americans have a history of heroic service in America’s wars—they fought bravely alongside whites in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, for both sides of the Civil War, and in every war in the 20th century, but were consistently looked down upon by their white commanding officers, Durant pointed out. African Americans members of the military received less pay for their service, struggled to be promoted, and were segregated into troops of their own, due to a longstanding rule preventing intermixing of races.
Racial segregation in the military did not end until after World War II, when President Harry Truman Issued Executive Order 9981. There are no institutional barriers to integration and inclusivity today, but minority populations are still underrepresented in the armed forces. Durant emphasized that diversity is an ongoing effort and is paramount to national security.
Ryan offered her insights regarding the struggle of women to integrate into the military. Like racial segregation, exclusion of women is a policy that has been evolving, very slowly, over the entire history of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, established in 1941, was the first opportunity for women, whom had previously been limited to behind-the-scenes labor and medical care, to serve in combat. There are numerous accounts of brave women who masqueraded as men in order to join in the fight in the American Revolution and the Civil War, before female service of any kind was allowed.
Today, there are limitations on women’s involvement in every branch of the military except the Coast Guard. Even though there are still barriers for women, Ryan is pleased with the progress that women have made, and echoed Durant in saying that the quest for equal opportunities in the military is likely a battle without an end, and one that is important to ensure that the military is well-rounded and representative of the country it is defending.
Ryan and Durant participated in a question and answer session following their lectures, along with Maynard-Knox Professor of Government and Law Frank Anechiarico and Professor of Mathematics Debrah L. Boutin. The event was sponsored by the Chief Diversity Officer and the Office of the President.