Days before classes end for the summer, Jamal Sanders, 17, cool and assured, stands with a group of friends, hanging out on the street in front of A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in West Harlem, N.Y., where thick iron bars wrap around windows and security guards quietly enter and exit the building, patrolling the block. For Jamal, like most high school students in the city who don't have a close friend or relative serving overseas, the war in Iraq is a distant reality, though one that has brewed quietly in the background throughout his high school career. In June, the first high school class that grew up on the Iraq War graduated; this was the 9/11 generation come of age.
But at times, the war gives rise to battles of a different sort: the clash in cafeterias and counseling offices between military and counter-recruitment activists over access to the city's schools and the tactics recruiters use to entice students too young to drink legally but old enough to enlist for war. In recent years, peace activists, parents, and students have joined together with groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) to stage their own counter-insurgency against what they describe as the military's use of heavy-handed tactics that go well beyond the appropriate means of conduct. They accuse the military of harassing students, manipulating them with lies and slick marketing, and disproportionately targeting low-income students and students of color.
Jamal and his friends complain of constant bombardment by military recruiters, whom they report are a common fixture in the school's hallways and counseling offices. "They be up in the school. We try to get away from them," he described, earning a chorus of nods from his friends. Jordan Smith, an 11th grader who is also 17, agreed. "They just don't give up," he said. "You get away from one person, and then you get another one."
According to Jordan, recruiters often pressure students by telling them again and again that the military is the best or only way to pay for an education. "That type of stuff gets me mad," he said.
But whether the experiences of these students are widespread is hard to say. While Jamal and Jordan estimated that there are about four to six military recruiters operating in the school in any given week, other students at A. Philip Randolph said that the number is really much lower and that recruiters aren't much of a problem. Others said that recruiters tended to remain outside of the school, soliciting students on nearby street corners.