Major Amanda L. Minikus J.D. ’15 was in Afghanistan when she received her acceptance letter to Cornell.
“I was in this craphole,” she said, referring to where she was stationed in Afghanistan. “I was like ‘[Cornell] looks like a magical kingdom’ — rolling grassy hills and a beautiful clock tower.”
Minikus and five other military women, four of whom are current or former Cornell graduate students, spoke in a panel honoring Women’s History Month on Wednesday.
The six women answered a series of questions about their personal experiences in the military, at Cornell and the process of “overcoming systematic biases to pave the way for future generations of women.”
Fleet Master Chief April D. Beldo, Minikus, Lt. Alicia Jane Flanagan grad, Capt. Molly Heath, recruiting flight commander for Cornell’s Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Shannon Boyle grad and Natoshia C. Spruill MBA ’14 participated in the panel.
The panel members all gave a range of different reasons for joining the military. Spruill had family members in the service; Beldo desired more “structure and discipline” in her life; Minikus wanted to serve after witnessing the 9/11 attack.
“Sept. 11 was in my senior year at high school,” Minikus recounted. “That directed me. I wanted to do something about it.”
“The United States Naval Academy also had a really nice swimming pool,” Minkus added, who captained the academy’s varsity women’s swim team.
A service member since 1983, Beldo recounted the times she faced sexism while in the navy. One time, her commanding officer told her, “I don’t want an aviator. I don’t want a female.”
“That was a challenge,” she said. “You are making a decision without even knowing what I can bring to the table.”
Beldo said that, while the encounter was discouraging, she did not ask to be reassigned and continued on in her assignment with an “I will show you” attitude.
Spruill and Boyle, who are both mothers, commented on the difficulty of balancing their service, studies and children.
“There are always trade-offs,” Boyle said. “It’s how you choose to prioritize.”
But despite the sexism her fellow colleagues faced, Minikus argued that ultimately “people follow good people,” regardless of “whether you’re female, male, white, black, hispanic.”
The panel members agreed that female service members are becoming more accepted within the military.
“I think the Air Force has done a good job of trying to create a supportive environment for women,” Heath said.