Berkeley makes amends with military, reaches out to vets
By Jim Michaels | USA TODAY | Published: May 20, 2014
Détente has come to Berkeley.
The University of California, Berkeley, once synonymous with antiwar activism, is expanding efforts to attract veterans and welcome the military to campus. For its part, the military is expanding ROTC on campus.
"Those old days are gone," said Lt. Col. Stephen Suhr, an Army ROTC professor at the university.
The Army ROTC program has grown to 44 cadets currently, up from 32 in 2012.
Berkeley's Haas School of Business has about 21 veterans out of a total enrollment of 487 and has worked to expand that number. Business school applications from veterans increased to 102 for the 2014 academic year, up from 39 in 2011.
Suhr said the anti-military reputation doesn't fit anymore although the stigma associated with it sometimes hurts efforts to recruit ROTC students, who fear they will encounter hostility on the campus.
"They think there is going to be some backlash," he said.
Ryan Evans, a 35-year-old former Navy SEAL and an MBA student there, said he came to the campus partly because he sought the cultural shock associated with jumping into a radically different environment after more than a decade in the Navy.
Evans said his Navy colleagues made cracks about Birkenstocks and pot smoking when he told them he was considering attending Berkeley.
The thaw between the university and the U.S. military comes as the cultural gap between the military and society has arguably never been greater.
The threat of the draft has long since been abandoned and the public professes support for the troops, even if many oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But that support doesn't mean the public understands the military. Only a tiny fraction of the population has fought in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many students at elite schools like Berkeley rarely even have exposure to anyone in the military.
In fact, some administrators view the presence of veterans and the military as a way of expanding "diversity" on campus.
"I wouldn't say there is a strong embracing of the military," said Kathryn Scott, director of physical education at the campus and a member of a university committee that oversees ROTC at Berkeley.
"It's acceptable," she said. "This is a diverse campus."
The tumult of the late 1960s was spread rapidly across the nation's campuses, as students protested the Vietnam War and the draft.
The epicenter of student radicalism was Berkeley.
Peter van Houten, who worked in the dean of students office during that time, recalls violent protests and tear gas wafting across the campus.
He remembers having to escort a visiting medical school dean off campus with a gas mask over his face. The building that housed the Navy ROTC was destroyed. "There was a lot of violence," he said.
ROTC was pushed off a number of elite campuses during the time. It has only recently returned to Harvard and other elite schools.
Miraculously, ROTC survived at Berkeley, though students back then rarely wore their uniforms around campus and generally kept a low profile.
Today, ROTC students at Berkeley are encouraged to wear their uniforms and cadets rarely hear anything but praise for their choice to enter the armed forces, Suhr said.
Berkeley, a place once viewed by the military as enemy terrain, is now a laboratory for bridging the civilian-military divide.
Evans says his fellow students are often fascinated when he shares stories in class, attempting to draw leadership lessons from his experiences in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During one class he talked about a time his team got ambushed in Iraq and how people often perceive a single event differently, based on their limited perspectives.
Students are surprised to learn that the military is not strictly an authoritarian organization, but one that encourages initiative and focuses on developing leaders.
"We break a lot of the stereotypes of what they envisioned," Evans said.