The University of Michigan Veteran and Military Services organized the “Diversity in the Military” panel on Monday to discuss equity and inclusion in the United States Military. 

The panel was moderated by Philip Larson, program director of Veteran and Military Services. The audience consisted of about 15 students and veterans.

Larson began the panel’s conversation by asking the panelists about their decisions to join the military. Rackham student Jacob Granzow reflected on how 9/11 impacted him and encouraged him to join the military.

“I was 13 when 9/11 happened, and I guess those images that were on the news just stuck with me,” said Granzow. “I joined because it just affected me, and I wanted to help in any way I could.”

Engineering graduate student Julia Oh Coxen explained why she joined the military. 

“Why I joined was very different from the reason why I wanted to stay,” said Coxen. “As a child of immigrant parents, I felt a very strong calling to do something for the nation that had done so much for us.” 

The panelists then discussed their decisions to retire from the military. Like Engineering senior Stefany Escobedo, who left the military to complete her education, Rackham student Ian Fishback felt he could contribute more to society as a scholar, reinforcing his decision to leave. On the other hand, Graznow said he left because he simply felt it was time to do so. 

“I joined the military when I was 18, and I felt when I was 24 — when I got out — that I had fulfilled my personal reasons for joining,” said Granzow. “It was time to do something else, to spread out, and I’ve been in school ever since.”

Following this discussion, Larson asked the panel whether they’d experienced moments when they’d been especially aware of their own and others’ identities during their years of service. 

Fishback said in his experience in the military, identities of race and gender were muted while other aspects of people’s personalities were highlighted. He explained there was a stark contrast between diversity in the military and outside it.

“There is less of an emphasis on skin color and categories, and more of an emphasis on seeing individuals and their backgrounds,” said Fishback. “Differences like race and socioeconomic backgrounds were muted to a degree that people over here (at the University) just cannot understand.”

Granzow commented the focus on the job at hand overshadows the idea of caring about differences among comrades. 

“No one cares where you are from,” Granzow said. “No one cares how rich you are, no one cares about your religious beliefs or political beliefs. You have a job to do and you have to get it done.”

Granzow said the military helped expose him to the diversity of the United States. It was a stark contrast to his small hometown in Kansas — where everyone was white with a Christian background and similar political beliefs, he said.

“(In the military) we had people from both coasts, from Filipino backgrounds, Hispanic backgrounds, black backgrounds, Asian backgrounds — you name it, someone was from that background,” said Granzow. “I realized that at a fundamental level, this whole human tapestry is not just one thread. There (are) people from all over the place.”

The panel came to an end when Larson asked a question about what the panelist felt the military does well that society needs to catch up on.

Coxen said although the military has taken steps that strengthen aspects of integration of diversity, it is important to recognize it is a work in progress.

“There is still a lot of work to do. We are certainly not where we could be,” said Coxen. “Where I would say that the military does frankly very well is the gender pay gap. I would get paid exactly the same amount as a male counterpart with the same level of skill and training.”

Granzow agreed with Coxen’s statement. “They are getting rid of the gender divide in the fitness tests, and I think that’s a good step,” said Granzow. “I like how everyone is held to a certain objective standard.”

In an interview with The Daily after the panel’s discussion, President of the University of Michigan Student Veterans of America Stefany Escobedo, an Engineering senior, explained students from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds should feel encouraged to join the military due to the military’s emphasis on individual character rather than the social constructs of race or gender. 

“In my experience, what has counted more has been work ethic and integrity (compared to race or gender),” said Escobedo. “At the end of the day the great thing about the military, in my opinion, is that we’re focused on the mission and that’s what takes priority.”

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