It has been a busy week with regard to gender equality legislation, with the effects ranging both from local scopes to the entire country. I say this in response to two main pieces, with one already in effect, and the other potentially coming into play in the near future. First is the lifting of the ban on female soldiers in combat roles, and second is the introduction of the gender-neutral housing bill. Both are big strides, each remarkable by themselves — together, though, they are even more significant.

In the past, it would have been unethical to have women serve in direct combat roles with men, due to their inherently smaller frame and different muscular build. This covert discrimination against women was further reinforced by the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, which outlined five areas that could compound their military service – "direct ground combat, berthing and privacy, co-location, long-range reconnaissance and special operations forces, and physically demanding tasks."

In essence, the rule said that having women on the front lines in direct combat would be too costly, cause potential problems with male combat troops, serve as distractors and would not be strong enough to fulfill specific duties. These reasons, though, are not enough to have women banned from direct combat. Women have fulfilled a variety of other combat roles in the field even before the United States became its own country. Serving as medical personnel, spies, and radio and communication technicians, they have contributed so much to the war efforts throughout U.S. history that they face the risk of being targeted by enemies almost to the same extent as front line combat roles. It is surprising that the U.S. military has only recognized this fact and released the combat ban on women, when they have faced the dangers of wars even behind the front lines. If a woman wants to serve her country, and meets the roles of assuming front-line positions, then by all means, she should have as much as an opportunity to apply for the role as another man who fits that role as well.

Though the gender-neutral housing bill is not as big of an issue as the release of the combat ban on woman in the military, it still contributes a significant step for gender and sexual equality. By introducing this bill, future students at UT will have the ability to not only break down the oppressive and denouncing walls that surround the differences in gender, but also to punch through the much more dense and difficult barricades that separate sexual orientation. We say that we separate students into different floors and dorms to protect them, but such a plan can also sets up the foundations for perceived prejudice and discrimination. Such an idea brings back memories of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, where African-Americans and black communities fought to fight the infamous and deceptive phrase "separate but equal."

Of course, for those who don't want gender-neutral housing, they can always opt out and pick a different dorm – but how exactly does that help in opening our minds and breaking down these misconceived barriers that we say we oppose, but in actuality do nothing to address?

I commend the Pentagon for finally making a big change in their military policy that supports equality and also those that proposed the gender-neutral housing bill into the SGA. These two events show that our ideals towards equality are actually exerting effects on our day-to-day lives, and not just in theory. We should exercise caution, though. Advocating for human rights is not something that we can simply stop doing just because we have one goal accomplished. Some will not accept these events and the ideologies behind them and, utilizing horrible logic and severly prejudicial arguments, they will continue to raise fires against progress for human rights. By promoting awareness and creating actual interactions between people of different views, such as gender and sexual orientation, we can make this planet worth living on.

—Jan Urbano is a junior in biochemistry and molecular biology. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu