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Oral History Interview with Janelle Harden
Date of Interview: October 31,2000
Cook: Did you enjoy that?
Harden: I did. Sometimes you have to learn how to detach yourself.
Cook: I was just thinking that.
Harden: Exactly because it can become a lot for another student. A lot of people...it use to be funny because they would come to me with their problems like I must not have any because you're the Chaplain, you must not have any, so it was hard. A lot of times I would call my parents and say, "Oh! This happened and I don't know what I'm doing. It's making me crazy!" I had to learn how to emotionally separate myself. I can't get emotionally involved in every single situation because I would never have anything left for myself. All you can do is listen and provide options for people.
Cook: A counselor.
Cook: It sounds like you have a nurturing side. So, one of the positive aspects of the Corps is to offer leadership opportunities?
Harden: Yes both in the Corps and outside of the Corps.
Cook: Do you feel as a member of the Corps you are stereotyped by non-Corps students?
Harden: Yes, yes you are, especially being a female. Guys are afraid to ask you out because they think you are going to beat them up![Laughter]
Harden: I wish that wasn't the way now that I'm graduating but it's still true. I remember this one guy I went out with. He thought it was the coolest thing in the world but it annoyed me to death. He'd introduce me as, "This is Janelle. She could kill you if she wants."
Cook: Oh my gosh!
Harden: You don't tell people that...I mean I can. But, you don't tell people that I can kill them.
Cook: You can!
Cook: How did you learn that?
Harden: It's part of our training. Like I said our basic training...we learn survival skills when I went through basic and so a lot of that was survival. When I say survival not only in the woods but also in terms of rape survival and things that you can do to avoid situations. Basically, if someone has you in a choke hold, how you can get out of it. It sounds so negative.
Cook: No, it doesn't because it's good for women!
Harden: How to break peoples legs, kicking, screaming, clawing and the proper ways of doing it not just frantically hitting; how to do it, how to strike, how close you should let the person get before you attack, how to run, how to fall.
Cook: So, it gives you power as a woman especially?
Harden: From the female side of it - non-Cadet females - they see it, as you guys are just a bunch of butches.
Cook: It may be threatening to them.
Cook: That's annoying. Can you tell of any situations with a female?
Harden: Like seeing me in a dress they'd say, I didn't think you were allowed to wear those. I am feminine. We can be feminine. You're not supposed to do that. Why aren't you in uniform? Why are you dressed that way? That sort of thing. You can let your hair down. I didn't think you could let your hair down. Yes, and I can curl it too. It's those kinds of things, like you're not supposed to be feminine. But, then from the male standpoint, well, you're going to beat me up if I ask you out. So I'm not going to ask you out. So, you hear it on both sides for females.
Cook: Do you feel jealousy from females too?
Harden: A little bit, a little bit because some of them knock females when they date the guys in the Corps. When they find out we live next door to each other, they get a little bit upset. Oh, you live next to him and you can see him anytime and you can see him in a towel and in a robe! It's like do you realize I'm not even looking at them. They're not even cute to me. I don't even see that at all.
Cook: So, they're looking to date them because they're in the Corps?
Harden: Oh, yes a man in uniform, just not a woman in uniform.[Laughter]
Cook: Oh right!
Harden: You get stuff like that, "Oh you know him? Where's he live? What's his phone number? Does he have a girlfriend?" I don't talk to him. He lives two doors down. I don't know what he does in his room. The girls are quite interesting!
Cook: Kind of a silly question but are your uniforms comfortable? I always wondered that!
Harden: Well for me personally the white shirt uniform is and that's just the everyday class uniform. I don't like the blue collar, what we call our Dress A or Dress B uniform. That's the blue with the white pants just because the collar annoys me.
Cook: Does it feel choking?
Harden: Yes. It's choking and it grabs there. Well, just for me it pushes my neck in and I don't like it. I don't like the way it fits and I can never...like the way the pants fit...they don't fit right to me. It's like they're on backwards but they're actually on right. So, that uniform I don't like.
Cook: I've just always been curious about that.
Harden: And then the cross belts when we wear dress, the cross belts suck you in.
Cook: Are both uniforms pants and top or do you have a skirt and top?
Harden: We have a skirt, but that's only our mess dress uniform and we wear that to formal occasions like our dining in and our military ball. That's a skirt and a jacket.
Cook: Is that comfortable?
Harden: That's comfortable.
Cook: How about the shoes?
Harden: The shoes? Well, in that uniform we wear the heels and every day we wear our low quarters and we have to polish those. They're pretty comfortable. You can buy inserts and padding.
Cook: How 'bout hat?
Harden: That's not too bad. That's pretty comfortable.
Cook: Has anyone been important to you on campus? I guess you talked about the one mentor.
Harden: My mentor is presently over in the business department, Dr. Smith. Of course everyone in the engineering department especially mechanical engineering. I know a lot of students who can't say that. Like everyone is important but between the Office of Minority Engineering Programs and my M.E. faculty and staff, they are wonderful. They are fully supportive. My mentor that I have at the University, like Sunday as a matter of fact, we spent the day together, went to church and spent the afternoon together. We just talk and I call her mom. We just talk about everything. She gives me money when I'm broke. I eat at her house if ever I don't want to stay at home. I sometimes stay at their house, clothes, gosh anything.
Cook: And she goes to the AME church? She's a professor in business?
Harden: She is.
Cook: Do you know Barbara Pendergrass?
Cook: You already told me you plan to stay in the military at least for four more years. When do you have to decide that?
Harden: To stay for four more years?
Cook: Right, do you definitely sign up? Have you done that yet?
Harden: I have. When I accepted my scholarship for three years, that's when I agreed to a four-year commitment to the military.
Cook: That's four more after you graduate?
Cook: But that will be in Virginia while you get your degree?
Harden: Actually, I'll be in Ohio.
Harden: And wherever I travel from in Ohio. The military can move you anywhere.
Cook: Then how will you get your degree?
Harden: Correspondence. That's what I'm working with now to make sure I can do correspondence so if I need to wait a certain amount of time...also once I get to Ohio, find out how long I'll be in Ohio because say if I'm going to be in Ohio for a year I can start classes there at a neighboring college to the base. I can start classes. I might not be able to finish the lab work on my own, but you can always mail that.
Cook: But, your actual degree will be from Tech though?
Harden: That's what I'm hoping. That's what I'm working on, getting the correspondence between Universities. Like I said, I have to figure out how long I'll be in Ohio and will they work together, the two different schools.
Cook: What is the base in Ohio?
Cook: Where is that?
Cook: Here's a generic question. Do you think women should be drafted?
Harden: Oh wow! I never thought about that one actually.
Cook: Then it's a good one!
Harden: It's a good question. Actually, I think people should have the option of being drafted, both men and women. So, yes but people should have the option. I don't think it should just be automatic. Kind of the way it is right now by the age of eighteen you have to make a choice, yes or no. Granted from the government's side of it, then we won't have enough people so that would have to be worked out. Or maybe it should be random social security numbers. I don't know.
Cook: But in your opinion, if males are, then females should be?
Cook: Do you think women should be in combat?
Cook: Do you want to make any more comments about that?
Harden: I think they should just because...mostly it goes back to proving yourself. If you're a woman and you feel like you can handle it and ALL - EVERYTHING that happens in combat then go for it if that's truly what you want to do. I know there are a lot of stereotypes in terms of well if she has cramps she might shoot them on purpose. That sort of thing. All these stereotypes. But if that's what a woman wants to do then by all means go for it. Do what you want to do. Do what you're set on!
Cook: How about all women combat units?
Harden: I think there has to be a mix, some kind of diversity because you need to feed off of each other. As in any situation you start to get into this mindset and sometimes you need new ideas to bounce off of each other. Some are going to be stronger than others are... different attributes so I think you have to have a mixed environment, both men and women. In terms of training style, I think once again you feed off of one another in terms of training style. So, in that case you should be able to train together, maybe not live together but train together.
Cook: Would you be willing to go into combat?
Harden: I would. I wouldn't like it too much but I'd be willing to go.
Cook: When you are going to be in the Air Force for four more years, do you have any idea of your duties yet?
Harden: What I was told was Aerospace Systems Engineering.
Cook: Can't get away from that!
Harden: No, can't get away from it! Physically I don't know if that's fighters or maintenance but that's what I was told or the whole new development of a system on an airplane. But, I know that is what I'll be in, Aerospace Systems.
Cook: So obviously, you like airplanes?
Harden: I do.
Cook: You don't get motion sickness or anything?
Harden: No. I use to fly out of the Tech airport here and I have some logged hours there. It's fun for me. I wouldn't want to do it in terms of being a pilot but it's fun.
Cook: Have you flown in helicopters?
Cook: You don't get sick in them?
Harden: No. They're fun.
Cook: You like roller coasters?
Cook: I don't. That's why I ask. I forgot to ask you what company are you in?
Harden: I started in Bravo and then I went to Delta. Then I was on the Regimental Special Staff.
Cook: Okay. I read about the Gold Cord Competition...
Harden: Right, it's a competition. Bravo Company won in the previous two years before my class came through. We didn't win. Then Delta Company, I think they won it one year. I want to say last year but it might be the year before. I wasn't in the company at that time. Then I have a Regimental Special Staff Cord.
Cook: What would you consider a major event in your student life at Virginia Tech?
Harden: Being on the track team, joining my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and the starting of CAASI, which is the Committee for African American Student Issues.
Cook: Can you talk a little about your sorority and then CAASI?
Harden: My sorority is a service organization founded by five women on the campus of Howard University in 1920, specifically January 16th, 1920. We are the sisters to Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and as a service organization we do parties for disadvantaged children at both Christmas and Easter. We work with Head Start, we do tutoring in the high schools, we help the high school students in terms of the Black Awareness Club, we travel to Roanoke, to Richmond, where have you, about diabetes, drugs, AIDS, social awareness. We work with Women's Space.
As a matter of fact, we're in the process now of doing a baby shower. That means we're going to collect a whole bunch of items, baby items from various people and organizations and have a baby shower for moms who can't really afford it. Like bottles and diapers and so forth and give them gifts.
Cook: I wish I knew that! I just gave so much stuff to the Humane Society [Thrift Shop].
Harden: Okay. We're working with the Women's Center on that one. Gosh, well last year we had the highest GPA of all sororities!
Harden: We work very hard. We work hard in the community and hard at our academics.
Cook: Of all the sororities?
Cook: I saw that you were on the list of the Corps for high GPA's.
Harden: Right. We participate and work where we can. We're all about community and community development. As a matter of fact, as we're speaking now, my sorority is doing a candy sale to help raise money for a ball we're having on November 11th and the proceeds from the ball will go towards the baby shower, AIDS Awareness, the Diabetes Walk, so on and so forth. Anything we can help with.
Cook: That's wonderful!
Harden: Then CAASI was started by Zeta Phi Beta and the NAACP was the co-founder of that. It's the committee for African America issues. We meet with President Steger and other organizations on campus just to find out what as African American students can we do to better our campus. What can we do to say we are involved in our campus in terms of getting students here? In terms of getting people to diversify the campus and come to the campus, come to our programs we are having. Not only as a "Black thing" but also as a campus wide program or what have you. So what can we do? We work with Admissions. We work with President Steger's office. We're working with the Calendar Committee that makes up the calendar for Virginia Tech that makes up cultural events for Virginia Tech.
Gosh! What else do we do? We work in terms of cutting down on student harassment. We work with the students, graduate students, anybody, anybody who wants to better their campus. I know we're working with Ben Dixon. I'm talking about Dr. Dixon, Vice President for Multicultural Affairs. We're working with his office now because a lot of people don't notice this but that wall, the timeline wall in Burruss Hall near Financial Aid on the second floor - it doesn't reflect when African Americans entered the University, nor does it reflect when minorities entered the University. It talks about women, but that's it. So we're working on either getting a new wall that reflects minorities and African Americans and so forth or just having a multicultural wall of its own that reflects the first African American, the first Asian American, the first Native American and so forth at the University.
Cook: Let me know if you have any luck finding the first Native American because I'm trying to find them and I can't.
Harden: Have you checked the Multicultural Center?
Cook: Actually one office does have statistics but they're not allowed to give me a name?
Harden: Oh, really! The Alumni Association can't help you?
Cook: It's hard with American Indians at a certain time in history in Virginia they either had on their birth certificates either "Negro" or "White." So it's hard. In Virginia for quite a long time, Walter Plecker who was in charge of the Bureau of Vital Statistics wouldn't let any Indians put American Indian on their birth certificates. So if you hit on anything, let me know. So, I guess I'm proud to say that we have a Black Timeline on the web. I wonder why...that's very strange, in Burruss of all places, they have that.
Harden: There is a picture of Nikki Giovanni as a Notable Professor and that's it!
Cook: We can go back to Pettigrew as the first man.
Harden: And then Dr. Yates was the first one to graduate.
Cook: Okay. There's a lot of talk about Affirmative Action policies. Do you have any comment on that?
Harden: Affirmative Action comes from presenting an opportunity. It's up to you to take that opportunity and run with it. I know a lot of people feel it can be a crutch to fill a quota and so forth. I feel it's an opportunity. It would totally undermine everything that I believe in to think that I got into Virginia Tech because they needed another African American body. I choose to feel it's because I have a great academic record and I am an asset to this University.
Cook: You sure are!
Harden: So I think that's where some people get confused is that one, if you don't have pride in yourself and your accomplishments, in the quality of person that you are then you will fall victim to the stereotypes just to get more numbers because I'm a quota or statistics or what have you. If you believe that you are, then you are. I choose not to think that.
Cook: How do you view diversity on campus and in Southwest Virginia?
Harden: I view it oddly actually. I think there is integration. I don't think there is diversity. The reason why I make that distinction is because a lot of people think diversity is strictly numbers. As long as we have more then the campus is diverse, but that's not what it means. Diversity means the acceptance of another culture. It is the acceptance of another lifestyle. I might not be gay or lesbian but I recognize that you all have a gay and lesbian month, that you all have activities. The University should recognize that.
Black History...just because you aren't black does not mean you can't participate in activities and the University can't recognize that...Asian Americans and so forth...all these groups. So when that starts happening, then we have diversity! When people don't see "women's space" and feel like you have to be a woman to come to the program. When we can get past that, then we have diversity on campus. Otherwise, we're dealing with a state of integration.
Cook: Janelle that's such a good answer! How do you like Blacksburg and Southwest Virginia?
Harden: It's nice. I like it because it's slow. It reminds me of San Antonio which is good because it's slow. Being in northern Virginia around the D.C. area, people drive so fast and I'm not saying that I'm a slow driver or anything like that but...
Cook: They're aggressive.
Harden: They're aggressive and don't like getting flicked off every day. So it's good to be down here. I like horses and cows and stuff. It doesn't bother me to be down here. It's not boring. I like it. It's slow. I like the country and being able to drive out to West Virginia and look at the mountains and just like run around in the fields.
Cook: Would you like to settle someday in the country?
Harden: I would, I would.
Cook: Have you ever had any negative racial experiences in Christiansburg or environs?
Harden: I can remember driving and someone passing me and yelling "Nigger" out the car.
Cook: This was in Montgomery County?
Harden: This was on campus!
Cook: Okay. Could you tell who it was?
Harden: I don't know. I couldn't tell who the person was. I was going about my merry way and they came around and yelled "Nigger!" Well, okay! I chucked it up to their own ignorance.
Cook: That's the only thing?
Harden: That's been the only big thing. Other things have been subtle. You could either take it as the person or it could have been a racial, under the breath comment, so on and so forth, but I don't let it beat me too much.
Cook: Do you think that would be more of a problem in San Antonio?
Harden: Yes, definitely!
Cook: Are there any other things you'd like to bring up that we haven't talked about?
Harden: I can't think of anything!
Cook: Okay, we'll just stop then![End of Tape 2, Side 2]
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