Corps of Cadets

COLLEGE STATION — Nearly a half-century after African-Americans were admitted to predominantly white Texas A&M University, a black student has reached the pinnacle of one of its signature organizations.

Marquis Alexander next school year will become commander of A&M’s Corps of Cadets, a high-profile post that involves establishing the cadets’ dress codes for their military-style uniforms and setting their daily schedule, including physical training that can begin before dawn.

“There is a sense of pride that’s there,” Alexander, 22, said Wednesday, standing in front of the “Corps Arches,” an arched brick wall that marks the entrance to the dormitory area for the 2,100 members of the Aggie Corps of Cadets. “I look at it as encouragement to other people to get out and do whatever they want no matter what their background is.”

Black students represent less than 4 percent of the 40,000 undergraduate students at the College Station campus.

“A lot of people from that part of town don’t come here,” said Alexander, who already spent a year and a half in the Marine reserves before enrolling at Texas A&M in 2009.

His continuing duty as a reservist, where he’s a corporal, also makes him the first person with actual military experience to head the corps.

Texas A&M opened its doors in 1876. Blacks and women weren’t allowed until 87 years later. The first African-Americans joined the corps in 1964. The first women cadets came a decade later. Alexander, who hopes for a career as a military lawyer or intelligence work, said he wasn’t even aware he was the first black cadet commander until someone told him.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long,” he said. “But I know the corps’ process is that they will always put the best people in the spot. I can honestly say my race didn’t play a factor. I hope it’s because I was legitimately the best person for the job.”

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Texas A&M appoints first black Cadet commander

 

Hell hath no fury like an Aggie scorned.

At least, that’s what The Battalion editor-in-chief Matt Woolbright and the rest of our colleagues over at the official student paper of Texas A&M discovered last week.

The saga began on Monday, Feb. 28, when the paper ran a story titled <a href="http://www.thebatt.com/news/poor-choices-follow-candidates-1.2020395">“Poor choices follow candidates”</a> that documented how A&M junior Joshua Light was cited for underage drinking in 2010. The citation was significant because a year later Light was in the midst of an election campaign for the position of “Junior Yell Leader.” Yes, you read that correctly: A&M decides their head cheerleaders by popular election and, based on the ensuing outcry, it’s a very big deal. Light was part of the “5 for Yell” ticket, a group of five members of A&M’s “famed” Corps of Cadets that run for the five yell leader positions every year.

For those unfamiliar with Aggieland, the Corps of Cadets is the student military organization at Texas A&M most well-known for marching in step and brandishing swords at football games.

The response from the Corps was immediate. Being the bastions of free speech that they are, on Monday morning several members of the Corps were seen emptying several campus newsstands of all copies of The Battalion that featured the offending story. The theft cost The Battalion more than $5,000; even though the publication is free for students, the paper is still accountable to advertisers for the missing product.

Outrage spilled out from supporters of the Corps and of The Battalion. While Woolbright defend his paper last Thursday in an editorial titled <a href="http://www.thebatt.com/opinion/no-regrets-1.2065873">"No regrets,"</a> opponents of the paper set up a Facebook event calling itself a <a href="http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=107876545959425&ref=ts">“Petition to Remove The Battalion’s Funding from Student Fees.”</a> As of Tuesday morning 2,144 people had registered as “attending” the petition, and 2,289 indicated they were “not attending.”

Part of what makes the petition so ridiculous is just how paltry a sum The Battalion receives from student fees. For last year’s budget, the paper split $22,000 with the school’s yearbook. That amount comes out to less than 50 cents per A&M student. Yet for some, those 50 cents are an egregious and tyrannical offense that must be rectified.

Yes, student newspapers that receive funding from student fees should be accountable to their respective student bodies. However, the criticisms leveled at The Battalion are poorly constructed. In the aftermath of a single news story, the paper — which publishes thousands of stories a year — has been accused of holding an overarching bias.

Additionally, it is hard to take accusations of bias seriously given how the paper has handled the incident. While publishing a single editorial in their own defense, the editors have published several letters from readers directly attacking the paper and the editors for their policies.

College newspapers serve an important function within their communities. Like thousands of other college journalists and writers across the country, we attempt to shed light on campus issues that would otherwise be lost in the shadows. Papers such as The Battalion provide a fundamental service to their constituencies that is impossible to replicate. The Bryan/College Station Eagle, the closest local newspaper to The Battalion, is not going to be focusing its coverage on campus-specfic issues such as the concealed carry debate or the rising cost of tuition.

A college newspaper is just as much a part of campus tradition as any hand gesture or border collie. Student funding, though it may only constitute 2 percent of the paper’s budget, is significant even if it only serves as a symbolic endorsement of the community’s valuation of the freedoms of speech and expression.

The entire incident has been an embarrassment for our sister university to the east and, even for a group that we love to see embarrassed, it is hard to stomach.

— Dave Player for the editorial board
 

News Briefly

Corps of Cadets members at Texas A&M University stole thousands of copies of the school’s student newspaper Monday, causing more than $5,000 in damages.

The Corps members responded to a story in Monday’s Battalion about yell leader candidate Josh Light. He received a minor in consumption charge in January 2010 and later lied about his behavior in an interview with the newspaper, said Battalion editor-in-chief Matt Woolbright.

“Yell leaders are celebrities on campus,” Woolbright said. “Next to the student body president, it’s the most important position up for election.”

Light first denied, then admitted to committing the past offense in an interview with Woolbright. The Corps of Cadets took no disciplinary action against Light.

Woolbright said he published the story so students could make an informed decision during the election. The newspaper theft disturbs the democratic process and freedom of the press, he said.

Students and staff witnessed Corps members in and out of uniform walking off with armfuls of newspapers and reported these incidents to the newspaper staff.

Woolbright said the newspaper plans to file a complaint with the university and handle the incident through its judicial system.

Authorities within the organization advised Corps members at a meeting the night before not to take any newspapers. Brett Bergamo, head yell leader, said cadets did take the papers but later returned them.