Today’s Corps of Cadets
Leadership continues to strive for greater diversity
By Jordan Burnham @RJordanBurnham
The once all-male, non-integrated Corps of Cadets has come a long way when it comes to diversity, and it continues to strive for progress.
Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez, Class of 1979, returned to Texas A&M as commandant of the Corps in 2010 and brought several initiatives to reinvigorate the organization. Among those initiatives was a push for diversity among cadets, who made up a dwindling percentage of the university’s overall student body. In 2015, 68 percent of the Corps was made up of white cadets. As of 2018, that number was down to 66 percent.
Diversity does not stop with race. According to Col. Sam Hawes, Class of 1981 and assistant commandant for recruiting, the Corps has gone from nine percent female in 2009 to 17 percent in 2019.
“When General Ramirez got here he set several goals,” Hawes said. “One was to grow the Corps but one of the other key goals was to make the Corps more diverse, more representative of our state and nation.”
Hawes said Ramirez’s personal story as a first-generation Hispanic student who joined the Corps in 1975 played a large factor in recent efforts for an increase in diversity. Some of the methods of implementing these goals have been revising recruitment materials to more accurately reflect the Corps, making some of the previously all-male units co-ed and an increased visits to areas with high concentrations of underrepresented minorities.
“If you really look at the Corps now, we’ve got kids from all over the world,” Hawes said. “Twenty percent of our kids are out of state, we’ve got handicapped students, we’ve got two kids in a wheelchair.”
Women were permitted to join the Corps in 1974, and in 2015, the Corps saw its first female commander, Alyssa Michalke. A year after the integration of the previously all-male outfit E-2, A&M watched as biology sophomore Mia Miller became the first female mascot corporal, taking responsibility for Reveille IX.
“It was weird to me that it was ever a position that girls could never think about being the handler,” Miller said. “That’s so crazy to me, because I feel like it’s something that everybody should be able to do. You know it doesn’t take a guy to walk a dog; anybody can do it. Well, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can do it.”
University studies sophomore Cindy Jezierski will be the 2019-2020 Sergeant Major of 2nd Brigade. She said that despite backlash from some cadets against females in leadership positions and some lingering stigma against women being in the Corps, members of Corps leadership have proven to be supportive of diversity.
“I have a lot people come up to me and show me how they weren’t up for me being in the leadership position that I was in because I am the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in my entire brigade,” Jezierski said. “They were like ‘I don’t really like that because you’re a female and you’re not up for the position. But the leadership in the Corps, they were really supportive, and if they didn’t think that I was up for the position, they wouldn’t have given it to me in the first place.”
According to Col. Glenn Starnes, Class of 1981 and assistant commandant for operations and training, female demographics over the last four years have stayed pretty steady, not fluctuating by more than 2 or 3 points each year.
“You could say that our female population has grown over the years as the Corps has grown, but the percentage has stayed pretty much constant, because as you’re adding more female cadets we’re also adding more male cadets,” Starnes said.
Public health junior Pranav Menon, who is currently in D-1, said he has never perceived that his ethnicity has held him back from success throughout his time in the Corps.
“I’m from a South Asian background, and there’s maybe five or six of us in the entire Corps,” Menon said. “So there have been some difficulties, but at the end of the day it’s been a really rewarding experience.”
Starnes said Ramirez and the Corps recruiting staff have initiated more reach into the Rio Grande Valley as well as all the way out to El Paso.
“We’ve seen the populations from those two areas increase percentage-wise,” Starnes said. “We have 10 major unit commanders in the Corps of Cadets. This year, three of those major unit commanders are from the same high school in El Paso.”
Despite some common misconceptions about the Corps, the cadets show students from all backgrounds that it is an organization worth joining, according to Hawes.
“People think that it’s an all white organization,” Hawes said. “And those simply aren’t the facts.”