Up in the Ranks

Warm-ups, stretches, push-ups, long jogs – the life of an Army cadet is a stressful one. For most people, the first image that registers in their minds is that of chiseled and toned men performing all of the above. That image is old news, however; today’s soldier is Ann E. Dunwoody, who, on Nov. 14, became the first female in U.S. Military history to be appointed a four-star general.
“I think [Dunwoody] becoming a four-star general is awesome,” said Meghan Omalley, an international relations sophomore and second-year cadet in MSU’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). “Females have definitely come a long way, branch-wise, because there are so much more opportunities. It’s not just limited to being a nurse anymore.”
[omalley2]Even though Dunwoody does not want her gender to overshadow her accomplishment, she represents something worth acknowledging: change, inclusion, and recognition for a job well-done for both genders. She is an inspiration of sorts for the 2.5 million women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the American Revolution. It gives women like those in MSU’s ROTC, encouragement to follow in Dunwoody’s combat boot steps and climb the ranks in a male-dominated military.
Women may have more encouragement and role models but that does not mean they are completely equal with men in the army. In some cases that may be beneficial for the average woman in the U.S. – after all, only men are required to register for selective service when they turn 18 years old. But gendered differences continue when a woman chooses to go into the military. There are still regulations that prohibit women from the front lines; only in the Iraq war have women begun to hold combat positions. Despite these ongoing inequalities, women are becoming more of a presence in the army, a trend that’s also reflected in MSU’s ROTC program.
MSU’s Army ROTC is a training program that preps, educates and recruits commissioned Army officers. Its headquarters are in Demonstration Hall. ROTC programs are nationwide and college-based, meaning a student can take various courses related to the military throughout their college career. Once a student graduates from the program, he or she earns the title of second lieutenant. MSU ROTC, like all other ROTC programs, offers merit-based full-tuition scholarships, which appeal to many students, including women like Tasonja Frantz.
[army]”My parents are divorced and we didn’t have a lot of money for school, so this was a good way to go,” said Frantz, an international relations senior and four-year Army ROTC cadet. That was not the only reason Frantz joined. She came from a military family, so she was always exposed to military life. “My dad is a war officer and my grandfather served in World War II. I was a junior in high school, and my dad told me about the National Guard, and I went to basic training before I enrolled in ROTC,” Frantz said.
Frantz acknowledged that there are some slight differences between the sexes in the military, but she never felt that being female hindered her. “There are times when it’s difficult because we are biologically different, but I don’t find it hard personally,” said Frantz. “As females we deal with certain issues that men are leery about dealing with or don’t know how. It may not be completely equal, but we have come a long way. I’ve had a great experience.”
Both cadets say the key to partnering military service with college is time management. Juggling school and work along with a social life is a challenge for any student, regardless of their sex. “You have to learn how to balance everything, know when you have time for this and when you have time for that,” said Omalley. “I still do fun things, but I have a schedule.”
Frantz added that the military and ROTC does not consume her life. “I’m just like any other student; I go to class and work. I hang with my friends. But on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I have physical training and labs.”
[frantz]As a four-year cadet, Frantz is still only part of a handful of female student officers in ROTC. Only 29 members of the 122-person MSU Army ROTC are female. But having women in the program is a step up from the old days where women were merely military nurses. Today, there are 21 female general officers in the Army, and four are above the one-star rank. Women are now pilots, medics and police officers. Since its start in 2003, more than 90,000 women have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are still 16,000 women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is different from when Matt Rawlins was in the army. A soldier for 10 years, he didn’t have much interaction with female soldiers. “My experience dealing with female soldiers was rather limited because women aren’t allowed to serve in the tanks and infantry units,” said Rawlins, who is a 1998 graduate of Michigan State and served in the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion and Iraq war in 2003 and 2005. This lack of interaction between sexes has changed since Rawlins served. He is now the executive officer for the military science department and works with MSU’s ROTC.
“When the U.S. had the draft in 1933, one of the ways they wanted to keep recruitment numbers up was getting women involved. I think they [women] picked up the slack that the men weren’t doing,” Rawlins said. Both of his grandmothers served in World War II.
While the armed forces have come a long way since the 1930s, males are the considered, by many, the face of the five branches. And many military women use that as motivation. “I never felt discriminated against. I don’t notice distinct differences,” said Omalley. “I mean, physically, we are usually shorter than men so doing certain activities can be harder, but I love the challenge.”
Rawlins said that he looks at his cadets equally. “I don’t try to look at them as ‘oh you’re a man and you’re a woman. Everybody is important, so as long as we keep diversifying the military, it’s a good thing.”
After graduating this spring, Frantz will join the Army, working in the equipment maintenance unit. She said being a female in the military does not cause her to reconsider her career path. “There are times when it’s difficult, but I grew up around boys, I grew up in the military. I can do pretty much anything a man can do.”

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Shades of Discrimination

“Facial and Free Bleaching For Scars, Oily and Dark Pigmentation.”
This phrase is etched in bright red letters on a yellow flag more than five feet tall. Amid the black-and-white posters of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali and the dark, worn furniture, it is the first thing that catches the eye in this tiny office. The flag is an advertisement for skin lightening bleach from Manila, Philippines. The final two words, “dark pigmentation” create an image of impressionable Filipino girls tirelessly scrubbing this product on their skin in hopes that it will transform their dark tone to one like Nicole Kidman’s milky white complexion.
The ad belongs to Ronald Hall and exists as a reminder of a problem that affects everyone from Filipinos in Manila to blacks in the United States. Hall, an associate professor of social work at MSU, researches intraracial discrimination based on skin color, or “colorism.” Intraracial discrimination means when someone discriminates against another person of the same racial group, and it affects almost every minority group in America and globally. However, many of these groups stay silent about colorism for fear of seeming hypocritical for racism still existing within their communities, when they have fought for equality with other races for so long. Hall has studied colorism for more than 25 years and said the black community is the most outspoken about intraracial discrimination.
[slappey]In 1992, Hall co-authored Color Complex, one of the first books to critically examine colorism within the black community. Last month he published his ninth book, Racism in the 21st Century, which looks at intraracial discrimination’s impact on all people of color. It was Hall’s childhood experiences that got him interested in intraracial discrimination. “In my neighborhood, the lighter-skinned kids didn’t always congregate with the rest of us and had a little more financially, but I didn’t think much about it. It wasn’t until I started researching this that I found a pattern that wealth in the black community is dominated by lighter-skinned blacks,” Hall said.
The dichotomy of light versus dark and “good hair” (naturally straight, curly or wavy hair) versus “bad hair” (thick and coarse hair) dates back to slavery when slaves adopted a “divide and conquer system.” In order to control slaves and keep them from running away, slave masters treated the light-skinned slaves better than the dark-skinned ones. Lighter-skinned slaves usually worked in the master’s house and had more access to better clothing and food. Nevertheless, they were all slaves, and many were raped by slave owners and overseers or had relationships with them, resulting in biracial children.
Today, a kaleidoscope of skin tones exists within the black community. The notion of whiteness as beautiful has persisted through many generations and continues to be prevalent today. “Girls don’t really approach me because I’m not light-skinned or the pretty boy type,” accounting sophomore Tyrell Slappey said. “I think it’s harder for darker-skinned blacks, because if I were competing for a job against a light-skinned black guy with the same credentials, he would get picked over me because I’m too dark. They’re closer to white.”
What Slappey is saying may not be too far from reality. According to a 2006 University of Georgia study conducted by doctoral student Matthew Harrison, light-skinned black males with a bachelor’s degree and average work experience were more likely to be hired over dark-skinned males with an MBA and managerial experience. On a rate of one to seven, one meaning “not hire at all” and seven meaning, “definitely would hire,” light-skinned males averaged 5.35, while dark-skinned black men with an MBA, on average, rated only 4.5.
“It’s sad. I don’t think skin color should impact who gets hired. It should only matter who’s better for the job,” microbiology junior Donnie Cooper II said. Cooper, who is dark-skinned, thinks the reason is because mainstream society sees darker-skinned blacks as more threatening. “If you’re dark or the darker you are, there are the stereotypes. People think you’re mean especially if you don’t smile. I’ve been labeled unapproachable because I don’t walk around with a smile on my face all day, every day,” Cooper said.
Many darker-skinned blacks think their skin tone has been a hindrance, but some light-skinned blacks have had the same experiences. For sociology freshman Stephen Vines-Harvin, his light skin means he is constantly trying to prove his identity. “Maybe when it comes to getting a job I have an advantage over someone who’s dark, but within my own community, you get a lot of hating,” he said. “It’s worse when you’re younger. Because I was light and I had light brown hair, kids were always like, ‘You’re not black. You think you’re white.'”
[ramsona]Black women cope with colorism just as much as their male counterparts. America is a nation obsessed with beauty, especially when it comes to women, and curves, coarse hair and dark skin are not hallmarks of the American standard of beauty. The underrepresentation of black as beautiful in advertisements targeted toward females causes black women to think they do not have a place on the spectrum of beauty. “Every time you turn on the TV, you’ll see commercials selling products that feature white women with the long, flowing hair, and it seems innocent. It’s not saying outright this is the standard of beauty, but if that’s all you see since you were a kid you know. That’s why it’s so dangerous because you don’t even realize it,” Hall said.
Apparel and textile sophomore Ashley Ramson agreed that the media has perpetuated an idea of beauty that is light, not dark. “You see a lot of light-skinned black women or Latinos in commercials. If there is a dark-skinned woman she has ‘natural’ hair or if she’s light-skinned she has curly hair, and it doesn’t represent what most black women look like,” Ramson said.
Growing up, Ramson’s very light complexion became the center of kids’ jokes. “The first time someone called me yellow was in the first grade. It was just something that was always noticed,” Ramson said. “If a girl didn’t like me she would say ‘you think you’re all that because you’re light-skinned or your hair is curly.’” There was even animosity within her family. “My mother was teased by her family because she was the lightest and they’re Jamaican and dark. My mom is not even that light. I would hate to think what they would say about me and my siblings,” Ramson said. Ramson was teased as a child, but as she has aged she has noticed how her features and skin color attract the eyes of many black men. “I do think guys prefer light-skinned females. A lot of guys I know prefer them and I think that’s because they’ve been made to think that light skin and curly hair is beautiful.”
Major black Hollywood celebrities like Beyonce, Rihanna and Halle Berry all have light complexions and typically white features. They are often considered the epitome of beauty among people of color. Other black celebrities like Angela Bassett, Nia Long and Gabrielle Union do not receive as much press as their lighter-skinned peers. “This whole issue of skin color discrimination, it’s a reality, but nobody wants to talk about it in public. Blacks are embarrassed by this because we accuse whites of doing the same thing so it lessens the accusations against them. It’s still an underlying pain, and we keep suppressing that pain when we don’t talk about it,” Hall said. Until the issue is talked about openly and accepted as a problematic part of our society, the tensions between white and black and light and dark will continue to color our worlds.

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