Last friday I went with the students at the Christopher House to a day-long career fair. I was really looking forward to the day. Most days we just spend three or four hours with the students but this friday we were going to be together from 8am-4pm. The career fair was on Navy Pier in Chicago at a big conference center. The career fair was sponsored by LULAC (Leauge of United Latin American Citizens) and was targeting Latin American students, which the majority of my students are. I was told that they were going to learn about things like college degrees and writing resumes, along with spending some time at the career fair, walking around to different booths.

Now I’m pretty sure LULAC is an awesome organization, but this student career fair was pretty messed up. In the morning we went to different conference rooms depending on the student’s grades… and the 3 hour seminars were all about jobs in the military or government agencies. We learned about the Air Force, OSHA, the FAA, and other government agencies that the students could work for. We were told over and over “stay in school”, “don’t do drugs”, “get a college degree”, and most of all, “we need more Latinos in these agencies/in the military” and “you can make great money doing this”. The entire thing was a three-hour commercial for jobs with the government and the military. The students didn’t learn anything new except some cool things they could do in these jobs and what great benefits they would get.

It got event worse when we went to lunch. I was pretty excited because we were going to get free lunch… and who doesn’t like free lunch? I arrived with my group of students and probably 250 other teens and some leaders into the room for lunch at 12. We were all hungry and the buffet tables were all set up around the room… it seemed like it was time to start eating. Instead we were subjected to over an hour of people in the military sharing their stories and motivational speeches, their arguments and their commercials for joining the military…. all before they let us get up and get anything to eat. For better or for worse, many of the men they had speak were latino like many of the students and told stories of growing up in poverty… “I had no way to pay for college”, “my parents were working 3 jobs and I raised myself”, “I was stuck in life on the streets”… and, of course, for all of them the military “saved” them and answered all of their problems in life. The military was the solution.

What do you think? I felt like my students were being sold a line… like the military was a sleazy car salesman trying to unload a car that was going to break down 5 miles off the lot. What was military life really like? What will help you make it through, what do you need to make it, and what sacrifices do you need to make? There was simply no mention of any of that. Instead the military gathered a group of students who may not have the same opportunities as students who grew up like me… students who may be worried about their future or getting into college… students who may feel like they have a little less to loose or may feel like this is the best option they will be able to find because so many options seem closed to them. The military seems to seek out these vulnerable students…

isn’t that wrong?

Why didn’t the military come into my high school? Why didn’t they come after me. I was a leader with great grades and spent three years on a varsity team… why didn’t they try to recruit me? Wouldn’t I have been a good fit for the military? But my life was different than the lives of the students that I am working with. I knew that I would go to college, make it through pretty easily, and get a good job. I was a legal citizen with parents who could support me, both financially and with encouragement. I didn’t feel like I needed a way to escape my life or my situation or my neighborhood… my situation was different. So maybe the military has decided that it is just easier or more efficient to go after the vulnerable kids in our communities…

why are we not standing up for these kids? why are we not objecting to these practices?

It’s really disturbing that I have to walk by military recruiters at my school every Tuesday and Thursday. Friends of mine who are considering military service do so because their grades aren’t good. But why can’t the government just encourage them to do well in school? Or give them options other than the military? It makes me sick and it’s time we do something about it. Recruiters don’t belong in high schools. My friends and I shouldn’t be exposed to them in our place of learning.

– Whit Allen, 16, Aurora USA


3 thoughts on “recruiting

  1. Maria,
    I can understand your concern, but I also think you have a lot of generalized statements in your blog based on this one experience. Sure, maybe this organization invited representatives from the military to come speak at this ‘career fair’, but that doesn’t mean it was organized by “the military”. And yes, I do think in a lot of cases underpriviliged, vulnerable students are sought out to join the military. And presenting the military as their only option is wrong. But…it should still be presented as an option. Go to any high school/college career fair and you’ll see recruiters there, and they have just as much right to be there as anyone else. And students have just as much right to say “no” to the military as they do to going to college.

    The way you write about how this career fair went down sounds a lot like the commercials you see on TV for the Army, Marines, Navy and the Air Force. They talk about the education/monetary benefits and what career options/training you will have once you join. And it is sad that that’s all that they focus on, because their is so much more to it than that. But if you were trying to sell something, would you focus on the negatives?? Do colleges focus on the negatives when they’re trying to recruit students? Does UW-Madison advertise how liberal it is and the high percentage of drinking/partying that goes on there? That’s not what the university wants to be known for. Just as the military wants to be known for what it advertises. How it can benefit you.

    I guess my point is, that no matter what it is, students have to be taught to have a voice. They have to be taught to ask questions, stand up for themselves, regardless of the entity they are going up against. I guess that’s the message I see here. I don’t think it’s right to fault “the military” for doing their job in recruiting. Now…the way it was done at this organization’s career fair may not have been right, especially since it wasn’t advertised as a ‘military fair.’ But to generalize yourself against the military as a whole…I just don’t think that’s going to get the result you’re looking for.

  2. Just a follow up comment as I’ve been thinking about it…you mentioned that the military was not the only entity represented there, that there were other government agencies represented there as well (the FAA, OSHA, and the like). I guess what I’m wondering is…what’s wrong with working for the government? From what I know…because John used to work for the government, and I spent the last year doing an internship at a government agency…working for the government is actually pretty nice. There really are great benefits, the pay is usually better than the same job in civilian-world (depending on the actual job, I guess I shouldn’t generalize that), but if I could choose I’d be working for the government. Actually, I’ve applied 3 times for the same job with a government agency…and it’s dang hard to break in if you’re not already in. There are lots of hoops to jump through. Now…the military may appear like it’ll take just about anybody right now, but that’s not true. You do have to pass tests in order to get in, psychological, intellectual and physical. The other agencies I can’t speak for, except to say that they probably do a pretty lengthy background check.

    Maybe it is wrong that they are “targeting Latin-American’s”, but this was a conference for a Latin-American organization wasn’t it? Doesn’t it make sense to have Latin American’s represented in these career areas?

    In high school, we had an Army Reserve station right across the street from our school. We’d see them running on occassion, and I definitely remember their presence in our school at fairs and what-not. Our high school was predominantly white. They still wanted us.

  3. Stacia,

    I really appreciate your comments and I will confess that I am biased because I personally don’t want to work for the government or join the military… which makes it easier for me to see all the events of the career fair through a negative lens.

    On the other hand, I guess the biggest issue I had with the “College and Career Fair” was that it was 75% about the military, about 20% about other government agencies, and about 5% about any other careers. Even that would have been ok if all the advertising and marketing for the “College and Career Fair” hadn’t made it seem like it would be a well-rounded and all-inclusive fair for our students. Instead the message that the students heard that day is that the military was the best way to go, and may be the only way to go if the students didn’t have the resources to get to college in other ways. If students were interested in anything other than working for the government and joining the military, they had to search for the few booths at the career fair that dealt with other jobs. All of the actual seminars and speakers were about the military and government agencies. It just seemed unjust to me that our students and us leaders were told that this was going to be a typical college and career fair and instead so few options were actually presented to our students.

    I guess it is not the military’s or government agencies’ faults but more the fault of the Latino organization that ran the event. They should have made sure that the career and college fair was broader so that joining the military or going to work for a government agency was presented as two good options out of many possible options- not as the only options.

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