Last week, a deep scroll into the Twitter-verse led me to an article revealing that in certain predominantly Black and Latino, low-income Chicago Public Schools, students are automatically enrolled in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, courses. The same week, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a case challenging current law that only requires men to sign up for the draft. Both headlines reveal the unfortunate reality that, like many things, military policy is applied differently along the lines of race and gender.

The automatic enrollment of Black and Latino CPS students into JROTC programs is a remnant of troubled practices of the past: exploiting the country’s poor and sending them to the frontline to do the fighting. Of the 10 high schools where students were known to be automatically enrolled in JROTC programs, all were located in low-income areas on the South and West sides of Chicago with predominantly Black and Latino student body populations.

While participation in a high school program does not guarantee a military career, at high schools with JROTC programs, students are two times more likely to enlist.* That means for students in Chicago where the majority of JROTC programs are affiliated with the Army, the branch of the military that has historically experienced the most casualties, the consequences of their decision can be serious.**

A career in the military can undoubtedly make for a fulfilling experience for some, and the social-net programs it offers can be serious tools for upward mobility. However, students should not be funneled toward certain careers simply because of their race or socioeconomic status.

A similar lack of policy uniformity, in this case on the basis of sex, makes the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to hear the case about women registering for the draft especially disappointing. Since 2013, the military has permitted women to serve in all combat capacities. Women take part in the military at all levels, including programs like JROTC. There is no difference in the military service capabilities of a man and a woman. The draft process should be changed to reflect that. Either all Americans should be required to register with the Selective Service or no one should. To do anything otherwise discredits the contributions that thousands of women have made and continue to make.

Failing to administer this policy uniformly also perpetuates outdated ideas about a woman’s role as being at home and nowhere else. Some women do not want families, some cannot have them, and plenty of women trust their partners to take equal responsibility in familial duties while they are serving.

These two cases are examples of how simple policy decisions can prompt meaningful strides toward equity and tangible change for many Americans. We are familiar with the enormity of some of the problems in our society, but it can be daunting to figure out where to start to address them. Sometimes, though, the policy changes are simple enough and right in front of us.

We just need to recognize them.

* https://chicago.chalkbeat.org/2021/6/4/22512734/chicago-schools-automatically-steer-some-black-and-latino-students-into-military-run-jrotc

** https://www.chicagoreporter.com/chicago-schools-junior-rotc-programs-some-see-troubling-trend/ and https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf

Mary Hester is a student at Kenyon College. She is serving an internship at Wednesday Journal this summer.

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