Professor Christian discusses the promise of safety and citizenship through service

Matilda Melkonian, Contributing Writer

“The positioning of the soldier as a figure of unquestioned respectability relies on the parallel positioning of an undeserving subject,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Jenna Christian concluded after her talk on Jan. 29 titled “Fighting for Citizenship: White Supremacy and the Everyday Politics of U.S. Military Recruiting.”

 

In other words, the figure of a soldier who deserves unconditional respect is only made possible when in tandem with a citizen who does not merit that same respect. This is only one of Christian’s findings after her extensive research on the relationship between military recruitment in the United States and racial justice.

 

Christian spent three years researching the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program at high schools in Houston, specifically majority-minority high schools on the east side of the city.

 

Using skills from her studies in feminist theory, U.S. militarization, race, and citizenship, among other topics, Christian was able to tell stories of students who were originally on what is called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” This name refers to a pattern of students who are disadvantaged and eventually incarcerated because of the harsh conditions of the environments in which they grow up.

 

Christian notes how students were encouraged to avoid the pipeline by joining the JROTC, which leads to recruitment in the U.S. Army of around 50 percent of JROTC members. In her talk, she argued that the program targets minority groups, especially low income and undocumented Latino students, by suggesting what Christian calls “the promise of recognition as a citizen through the military.”

 

“[The talk] deepened my perspective on the military and the exploitation of undocumented workers,” Brandon Waldau ’22 said. “The military system prices immigrant or undocumented lives at the cost of citizenship.”

 

This idea of promising safety to undocumented and underprivileged students from incarceration or deportation if they proved their loyalty to the United States through military service was a common point throughout Christian’s talk.

 

Since it is a rather heavy topic, Christian recalled how she cautiously pursued her research. “I was pretty careful about not going into spaces that I wasn’t explicitly invited into, that meant that there were a lot of things that I just didn’t go to and I was fine with that,” she said.

 

Christian found that while targeting youth for the JROTC program has its benefits, she also acknowledges that there is room for improvement.

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