Norwich & Progressive Education

Harold 'Doc' Martin, with classmates. Picture from Randall Miller.

Norwich University is holding a Pride week, which has been met with mixed responses from alumni and current students alike. As a two time graduate of the school, I’m happy to see that Norwich is continuing its tradition of progressive reforms that keep it at the forefront of military education. With the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, everyone is permitted to serve the military, and events like this help to break down some of the barriers and promote understanding. Knowledge and advancement cannot occur without open dialogue, and a willingness to see another point of view, even if it’s not a position that one understands or supports.

I would like to think that there’s a component of those in opposition to this that aren’t as caracatured by the media and much of the left spectrum of politics: my friends who didn’t (and I would assume don’t – I haven’t talked with a lot of them lately about this) support same-sex marriage initatives weren’t throthing at the mouth in hatred, nor do I think that hey wish any ill-will upon them: they just want things as defined within their own comfort level. That’s fine: I don’t believe that everyone should blindly support such changes, and that questioning it is a positive thing in the long run. What I don’t agree with is the notion that things will never change or that they should never change; that as they are now is the way that things always will be, ad infinitum. It should be noted that there’s also a difference in opinion over a pride week and some of the specific events that are being held. One of the lightning rods for the controversy was an event called the Condom Olympics, something to do with safe-sex practices. It’s not a particularly tactful title for an event (and apparently hosted by an outside group), and I’m a little puzzled about it: why not just call it what it is? Safe-sex education?

This isn’t the first time that popularly held concept has been challenged by the school, overturning tradition with a radical change in education. In 1916, Harold ‘Doc’ Martin was admitted to the University on the recommendation of a Boston-based scholarship committee. He would do well at NOriwch, graduating four years later with a degree in Electrical Engineering, becoming the first African American student in Norwich’s history. This came a full thirty years before President Truman worked with military leaders to officially desegregate the U.S. military.

In 1974, Norwich once again made history when the first class of women were admitted to the University, two years ahead of the service academies. The school had admitted women two years earlier to the Vermont College Campus down the road in Montpelier, but the intigration with the school’s Corps of Cadets was a first in the nation, which ultimately would lead the way for other schools, such as West Point, to follow suit.

Neither decision came without controversy. While recently researching the 2nd World War, I came across letters written to school officials decrying the admission of women to the school. Undoubtably, there are others for Cadet Martin, who would go on to work with the Tuskegee Airmen.

Norwich’s founder, Alden Patridge, established the school to provide a liberal education, revolutionizing the American education system as he did so, and setting the role for the Citizen Soldier model that persists to this day. The country is not homogeneous in its composition, and I believe that everybody should have the ability to serve and recieve the tools that they need to serve and lead our armed forces. The Pride Week is one method amongst many that helps to reinforce community and understanding.

I’m saddened by some of the messages that I’ve recieved over the last couple of days: it shows that the message hasn’t reached everyone, and that there’s more work to be done. But, considering that I see a large mix of women and representatives of various races walking around Norwich’s Vermont campus whenever I go up there, it’s clear that the message will eventually take hold. I for one, am happy that my alma mater has taken this direction: I believe that it will only further strengthen Norwich as we step into the future.

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