ROTC officials had students dress up like terrorists for training exercise

By: Sierra Dyson


This story was updated Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m. after Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communications Cecelia Jacobs responded to Texan News’s questions that were submitted to her Monday at 4:45 p.m

The Tarleton State University Army ROTC has gotten itself in some hot water after posting what some would call racially insensitive photos over the weekend on its Instagram account, @tarleton_armyrotc, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

The photos were taken at a training at Hunewell Ranch while the ROTC cadets were participating in a field training exercise.

Screenshot from @tarleton_armyrotc Instagram account of cadets dressed in attire similar to that of the Middle East.

In the now-deleted post, which was removed from the account at approximately 10:45 a.m. the same day that it was posted, showed ROTC students dressed in a fashion similar to Middle Eastern men in a traditional Thawb or white, ankle-length garment that is native to the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Iran and some countries in East and West Africa.

Many Tarleton alumni, staff and students were upset with the attire seen in the post and felt like it fed into the stereotype that all Muslim and Middle Easterners are commonly seen as the enemy or are associated with terrorists.

Screenshot from @tarleton_armyrotc Instagram account of cadets posing as terrorists.

One person, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an email, “As an alumnus of Tarleton, I’m disgusted! And, surely, the presumed ‘adults’ and those in command over the student ROTC Cadets authorized this for their weekend training exercise…I question who in authority in Tarleton’s ROTC program thought this was appropriate, and why they couldn’t differentiate the ‘enemy’ during the field training exercise by having the cadets wear something other than a traditional attire commonly worn in the Middle East? At a minimum, this was insensitive and only perpetuates hatred toward another culture and its peoples.”

Texan News emailed Major John Considine, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Evans and the Commandant of Cadets and Dean of the Leadership and Military College Colonel Kenny Weldon asking about the nature of the training, why they thought it was a good idea to dress the enemy in all white instead of in other ROTC issued clothing, why they took down the post on Instagram and if they felt like dressing Tarleton ROTC students in that type of clothing was insensitive.

Considine and Evans did not respond to the email, however, Weldon agreed to set up a zoom interview Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 12 p.m. to shed some light on the situation.

Weldon stated, “There is an important and positive aspect to the training we need to provide with answers to your questions.”

However, at 11:46 a.m. Tuesday, fourteen minutes before the interview was scheduled to begin, Weldon informed Texan News via email that, “We will not be meeting at noon, today. Your inquiry has been passed to the Office of Marketing and Communications, please refer further inquiries to that office.”

From there, Texan News attempted to contact Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communications Cecilia Jacobs for comment.

Texan News described the situation to Jacobs and asked, “It has been brought to my attention that the Tarleton State Army ROTC cadets participated in a training where the students’ enemies were dressed up in all white in a manner similar to Middle Eastern men in the traditional Thawb in a now-deleted Instagram post. Are you aware of what happened, or could you shed some light on the situation? I was wondering who approved the students’ attire? Why couldn’t they have simply worn black or purple T-shirts or another set of ROTC-issued apparel? Why did they subject the cadets (the enemies) to wearing something that clearly invokes socially insensitive attitudes and feeds into the stereotypes of all Muslim and Middle Easterners as ‘terrorists’ or ‘the enemy’? Finally, why was the Instagram post deleted? Any insight you could provide would be appreciated.”

Jacobs responded Nov. 11 at 12:50 p.m. that, “The training was intended to highlight the value of cross-cultural communication and teach cadets to make judgments on more than first glances — never assume intent to harm based on dress alone. Some cadets in Middle Eastern clothing had dummy weapons; others did not. To avoid misunderstanding, photos on Instagram were deleted soon after cadets posted them. Photos without explanation can lead to false assumptions — as happened here.”

From there, Texan News also contacted the Assistant Vice President of the Division of Student Affairs Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason for a comment. According to the Tarleton directory, Helvie-Mason also works with the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and International Programs.

Helvie-Mason said, “Please know that ROTC is an academic unit and thus does not fall under my areas of responsibility.”

Texan News then contacted the President’s Office and left a message asking Tarleton President James Hurley to return a call to discuss the ROTC dressing up in racially insensitive attire or to comment on the situation.

The anonymous source ended by saying, “Our [Tarleton] campus community often states that it embraces and promotes diversity, inclusion and acceptance among our students, but these recent actions totally flies in the face of those stated goals and public statements by Tarleton’s administration.”

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