A Firm Stance

By Laura Brunts

Published January 25, 2006

Clarification appended.

At last fall's annual activities fair, Marine reservist Matt Sanchez, GS '07, got into an argument with several members of the International Socialist Organization and later filed a harassment complaint against three students.

More than three months later, the administration responded with a letter apologizing for the incident but took no disciplinary action. Realizing that he would get no public response from Columbia, Sanchez took his story to the press last week in an interview with FOX News.

The incident has provoked concern from members of Columbia's military community about what some see as a widespread anti-military attitude, and it raises questions about the University's anti-discrimination policy.

On Club Day, Zach Zill, CC '06, Monique Dols, GS '06, and Jonah Birch, CC '05, approached the table for the Columbia Military Society-a Student Governing Board-recognized group for Columbia students in Fordham's ROTC program-because they heard it was being used for ROTC recruitment, which is not allowed on campus.

"We went there to voice our disagreement with the fact that they were there and pick up some of their fliers," Dols said.

Sanchez stopped by the table soon after and entered the debate. In the course of the argument, Zill asserted that the military "uses minorities as cannon fodder," Sanchez said.

"My last name is Sanchez. I'm Puerto Rican. I'm a minority. Zach Zill is blonde and blue-eyed. I said, 'Look, I'm a minority. I know I enlisted; I don't feel like I'm being used at all,'" Sanchez said. "[Zill] said, 'Well, you're too stupid to know that you're being used.'"

Mark Xue, CC '06, a Marine officer candidate and president of the society, was also at the table and confirmed Sanchez's accusations.

"They were telling him that he was stupid and ignorant, that he was being brainwashed and used for being a minority in the military," Xue said. "Regardless of what you think about military recruiters, those comments were racially motivated."

Dols denied any kind of harassment. "It wasn't personal; it was a debate about the issues," she said, adding that his harassment complaint was false and "a discrediting campaign against us."

After the incident, Sanchez met with Marsha Wagner, a University Ombuds officer who mediates disputes. She presented him with several options, including filing a discrimination complaint with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which he did.

"I literally thought, naively so, that they would just bring us in and say, 'Look, don't do this anymore; shake hands, and go about your business,'" Sanchez said.

Instead, he went from one office to another, retelling his story. The complaint made its way up to School of General Studies Dean of Students Mary McGee.

Dols and Zill were brought in for hearings in November and were later told that the administration did not hold them responsible. At the end of the fall semester, Sanchez received a letter from McGee expressing sympathy for his "interaction with other members of our community."

"We expect our students to uphold the standards of conduct of the University, which include tolerance, respect, integrity, and civility," she wrote. "I can assure you that appropriate action was taken, and, more importantly, lessons were learned."

Student leaders in the Military Society and Columbia University Military Veterans were frustrated with the University's dismissal of Sanchez's complaint, especially in comparison to its rapid response to the Ruggles bias incident.

"Here you have a military veteran, a Hispanic man, who's being targeted because of his racial status, and nothing happens. It disappears into the University framework," Xue said.

Many professors and students who speak out against the military, including the three students from the ISO, believe that they are simply exercising their right to free speech, but some students feel personally attacked. Oscar Escano, GS '07 and president of the MilVets, said he asked his members whether they had experienced harassment on campus and was surprised at the number who had and yet never reported it.

"The feeling that Columbia permits this to happen exists not only in the minds of the perpetrators but also in the minds of the victims," Escano said. "The victims are going to feel like, 'Who's going to listen to me?' 'Who's going to do anything about it?'"

Clarification: The body, caption, and headline of the article "A Firm Stance" (Jan. 25, 2006) misleadingly represented accusations that Zach Zill, CC '06, verbally assaulted reservist Matt Sanchez, GS '07, as established fact. The allegations were based on interviews conducted with Sanchez and Marine officer candidate Mark Xue, CC '06, and cannot be independently verified. Similarly, the article failed to clearly indicate that Zill and other members of the International Socialist Organization disputed the statements Sanchez attributed to Zill.

Read the op-ed by Zach Zill published in response to this article on Jan. 27, 2006.

Tags: News, Laura Brunts