75°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Student, Recruiters Clash in Heated Incident

A UMB student who is a member of the anti-war club last week accused the University of being complicit with the American war machine.

Second-year student Keegan O’Brien made these controversial claims after an events fair happening on campus the first week of classes went astray. According to O’Brien, what started as a military counter-recruitment of UMB students ended in O’Brien being sworn at and threatened with arrest by a police officer on campus.

After noticing that military recruiters were at the events fair, O’Brien said that he and another member of the anti-war club approached the recruitment table and began a counter-recruitment initiative, trying to expose the truth about the military.

“They [the recruiters] don’t talk about how you’re going to kill people, how you could lose a limb or die, or that you could have post traumatic stress disorder [when you return from combat],” O’Brien said. “They don’t talk about the oil contractors or the mercenaries that are over there, but they will say that you’re defending your country.”

During the counter-recruitment, O’Brien decided to tape two signs on a nearby banister, not directly beside the recruiters, that read: “Killing People is Not a Career,” and “Anti-Gay Recruiters Not Welcome.”

“Less than a minute later, I was approached by a campus police officer who was rude and had an in-your-face attitude, telling me that I couldn’t have the signs up there because I didn’t have a stamp, even though, in all of our weeks of campaigning, I’ve never been asked to show a stamp,” O’Brien said. “The officer said he didn’t care what I thought and that he was going to rip it down.”

After telling the officer that his right to free speech was being restricted, O’Brien walked away from the conversation to converse with the rest of his group before being approached by the Director of Student Activities and Leadership, Shelby Harris. O’Brien said Harris told him that not only were un-stamped signs not permitted, but also that the anti-war members were not allowed to stand so close to the recruiters.

After being surrounded by more police officers, O’Brien grew nervous and proceeded to loudly repeat that his rights of assembly and free speech were being violated.

“Then, a short, heavy-set cop came up behind me, swore at me, and threatened to have me arrested for starting a scene,” O’Brien said, adding that even after the situation was de-escalated by the Dean of Students, members of the UMB administration continued to try and prevent O’Brien and other members of the anti-war club from doing the counter-recruitment.

O’Brien was less than candid when asked why he thought he was being censored by the administration.

“The whole campus administration here is trying to prevent students from speaking the truth about the military and what they do, and I think the campus is and should be ashamed of the fact that they allow an incredibly backward, homophobic, sexist, racist institution to be here in the school where we are trying to promote a safe space for women, for gays and lesbians, and for minorities,” he said.

O’Brien is referring to the Solomon Amendment. Part of the Patriot Act, the Solomon Amendment allows the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with other federal departments, to deny federal funding-sometimes up to $35 billion in total-to institutions of higher learning if they prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus.

O’Brien was also outspoken about why the anti-war club thinks the military is such a polluted institution.

“The military trains recruits to call Middle Eastern people and Arabs a lot of de-humanizing terms, and if people find out you’re gay, you will get a dishonorable discharge that can ruin your life,” he said. “The administration is trying to hide this and prevent students from speaking out because they are invested in the whole war machine; they give money to Raytheon, Halliburton, and all these weapon manufacturers, and set up classes designed to train people for the military.”

When students become critical of the military and try to expose how UMB is invested in the war machine, the university administration gets defensive and tries to have them censored, O’Brien said, citing that very censorship for the reason the anti-war clubs counter-recruitment efforts were impeded that day.

But the Dean of Students who helped de-escalate the incident on campus that day, Marita Labedz-Poll, said the reason she intervened and tried to speak to O’Brien away from the scene was because the conversation was getting agitated; not because the administration wanted to censor O’Brien-or his message.

“We’re not about view-point discrimination; we’re all about students being able to protest and demonstrate. This [university] is a marketplace of ideas and we want students to be able to do that-but it’s got to be within the regulations of the school,” she said. “From what I observed, some anti-war club members were right in front of the military recruiting table and they were interfering with them trying to get their message across.”

According to Patrick K. Day, UMB’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, after being contacted by Labedz-Poll directly after the incident, he met with the Boston police chief in order to begin an ongoing investigation into what occurred.

“That process has begun, and I got some initial feedback. My initial sense is that there was an opportunity for this situation to be handled differently on both sides. Every student should be treated with respect, and inappropriate language is unacceptable,” Day said. “My job here is to promote opportunities [in which this school is] a place for all kinds of different voices at the table, and our job is to make sure that the anti-war club has the same opportunities that every other club has-within the guidelines.”

When asked about whether he agrees with the Solomon amendment, Day said he was unable to provide an answer. He did, however, provide a frank and direct answer to O’Brien’s claims about UMB being invested in the American war machine.

“There is certainly no policy directed by the Chancellor [Motley], nothing that I’ve directed to any member of public safety, or anybody, formally or informally, explicitly or implicitly, [in regards to] the military [having] any more of a standing outside of what federal law directs us; I wouldn’t direct a student that has a different opinion not to express it,” Day said.

In response to why an open, diverse, and public institution like UMB allows military recruiters who operate on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ sexual orientation policy onto this campus, Day admitted a discontinuity in the equation.

“I’d be lying if I said we had all the answers, but there is a range of external partners and relationships that cause discontinuity,” Day said. “In this case, there is no decision to make because we are compelled, [to have military recruiters on campus] but students do have an opportunity to say we don’t think this is right-because it’s not so simple.”

Compelled, but not forced. Despite the billions of dollars in funds that Universities stand to lose should they deny recruiters on campus, legally, they are permitted to do so-at their own risk.

While it is unclear exactly how much funding the school has received from the Defense Department, as most records only go back four years, the school has received more than $300,000 in research grants from the United States Air Force over that period. The USAF was also a sponsor of last semester’s Spring Concert.