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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

November 22, 2013 at 6:04 AM

Race project | A peek inside America’s naval future

This Battle Ensign not only belongs in the US. Navy's Historical Records (it is), but is also a source of pride for the students.

This Battle Ensign not only belongs in the US. Navy’s Historical Records (it is), but is also a source of pride for the students.

The room was awash in khakis and black jackets, brass blinking in the morning light, as “Good Morning, Sir” rose in unison from the chairs. The class is as diverse as many classes on University of Washington, Seattle campus, a large and multiethnic student body. This class, however, had a common bond that others did not. This was a Naval Sciences class at the UW Naval Reserve Officers Training Center (NROTC).

Even though decades have passed since minorities and women were allowed to enter the United States military, many of the services have yet to catch up to the demographics of the nation. At the University of Washington Campus’ Navy ROTC unit, the diversity is good. However the unit’s commanding officer, Capt. David Melin, active duty, said that it could get better.

“Ours must be a navy family that recognizes no artificial barriers of race, color, or religion. There is no black Navy, no white Navy – just one Navy – The United States Navy,” said Adm. Elmo Zumwalt in the 1970s, a major proponent for sailors’ rights.

MIDN Justin Luk may be a minority in the classroom, but he's 100% American, just like all the other students.

MIDN Justin Luk may be a minority in the classroom, but he’s 100% American, just like all the other students.

And that rings true for this class of cadets, this sea of khaki, whether Caucasian, Hispanic, Filipino, or something else, the commonality among them is that they are there to serve the military, and that’s all that counts to embrace newcomers into the fold.

Justin Luk, who enrolled in NROTC as a freshman in pre-statistics this fall, is half Chinese and half Filipino, though all American. He attended a high school in San Francisco where 80 percent were children of Chinese descent.

“Here in the battalion [the ethnic] majority [is] Caucasian,” said Midshipman Luk. “I don’t feel any different. I may be half Chinese/half Filipino, but I’m 100 percent American just like all the rest of them.”

Today’s armed forces, while still investigating issues of racial discrimination, is also highly concerned with stopping sexual assaults and ensuring recently unrepresented military homosexuals are treated with respect and dignity.

At 1/4 Mexican, MIDN Marxen is more worried about her gender in the military than her race.

At 1/4 Mexican, Midn. Marxen is more worried about her gender in the military than her race.

For Midshipman Jordyn Marxen, who is one-quarter Mexican and a sophomore in astronomy and comprehensive physics, her heritage hasn’t given her the unease about military service that gender equality has.

“I know the last few years [the Husky Battalion has] been working on a Future Female Officer Group,” Marxen said. “To hear from a female’s perspective of what obstacles she faces just by being female – it’s nice that the battalion has taken an interest in giving us that guidance.”

While ethnic diversity in the military is up from several decades ago, there is still more to do – not just in getting more ethnic diversity among higher-ranking officers (according to a PBS publication in 2010), but also in equality for all genders and non-traditional relationships.

Just as the views and attitudes in the military have changed over the years, it is still evolving to create, not a Navy of unequal social standings, but One Navy – The United States Navy.

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