This story is based on reporting by Torri Carroll, Bayley Chenault, Brenna Donnelly, Stephen Ellis, Ashley Ford, Hilaree Foreman, Katlyn Gast, David Gillespie, Ariel Hall, Stayton Hatley, Denise Harroff, Marina Hayes, Shelby Hilton, Sara Honeycutt, Alison Jackson, Madalynn Mitchell, Forrest Murphy, Violet Newell, Jordan Palmer, Jessica Parton, Klarissa Perez, Ashley Perkins, Kelsey Poynor, Leah Ray, Christian Rocha, Jaimey Sanchez, Veladee Sovvilong, Kaitlyn Shaw, Dixie Taylor, Jessica Votaw, Dalton Wolverton and Kayla Zimmerhanzel.
A majority of the Tarleton community supports ongoing U.S. military strikes against the terrorist group ISIS, according to interviews with numerous students, staff and faculty members.
Student journalists with the Texan News Service last week fanned out across campus to gather reaction to airstrikes that began Sept. 22 against terrorist targets in Syria. They asked four questions:
- Do you support or oppose the military action?
- Do you believe ISIS poses a serious threat to this country and to this community?
- How do you feel the crisis is relevant to you?
- Are you concerned about United States involvement in another Middle Eastern conflict and how long the war will last?
Of the 70 people interviewed, almost two-thirds said they supported the bombings. Nine said they were not sure about supporting or opposing the military action, five said they didn’t know anything about it and 10 opposed it.
Those responding represented a cross-section of student classifications and majors and included several faculty members, veterans and ROTC members, university staff and interim Tarleton Police Chief Alvin Allcon.
Some in the Tarleton community questioned whether the university or Stephenville had a disaster plan in place to respond to a possible terrorist attack.
Allcon said he could not discuss “any plans we may or may not have in place” regarding ISIS threats to strike the United States.
“My information is totally due to media reports and I have no direct information, so I do not know if ISIS has the ability to be a direct threat here or not,” Allcon said. “I do believe they are a threat to anyone who does not believe the way they do.”
Although a handful of students said they hadn’t been following the news about the military strikes, most of those interviewed said they found the crisis to be relevant to their lives even in a small college town such as Stephenville.
“This is relevant to everyone,” said Brittany Ellis, a senior accounting major. “ISIS is a problem that will not be going away anytime soon. It will have a great impact in upcoming elections and an even greater impact in the next presidential election when foreign policy is brought up.
“America’s existence depends on how we deal with ISIS now and in the future, she added.”
Jordyn Hodges, an 18-year-old freshman nursing major, said “anyone who isn’t like them is in danger.”
“They are doing horrible things to people, mutilating people and even selling women,” she added. “As a teenage girl, that’s frightening.”
English instructor Stephanie Rosenquist noted that as the world becomes smaller with technology and transportation, “even acts of terrorism carried out on foreign soil can have profound effects on U.S. soil.”
“Given the profound disdain for Christians by the radical Muslim elements, we are certainly well within the scope of their terror cross-hairs,” she said.
Added Adrianne Falls, an administrative assistant: “We are an easy target because of the open border and poor management of national visas.”
Houston Sandford, a sophomore marketing major who is in ROTC, said he believes ISIS “threatens our way of life, freedoms, democracy, all of those things.”
“I want to serve our country. Things like this foreshadow what I could be looking at in the future,” he said.
Several of those interviewed said they wished the United States had taken action against ISIS sooner.
“It’s one of those things that in hindsight you wish you had done it earlier,” said administrative assistant Katherine Millican. “If you let the bad guys go on for too long, they start to think they can do whatever they want.”
Those opposing the military action included Waid Thompson, a senior business administration major who said the United States should stop getting involved in foreign affairs in the Middle East and killing innocent people to stop terrorism.
“My reaction is kind of biased because I have a friend that’s going to go over there,” he said. “I think it’s devastating and that we shouldn’t be taking action.”
Michael Vanderhoff, a sophomore kinesiology major, said the bombing was “unnecessary” and could lead to sending U.S. troops into ground combat.
“I think the bombing of Syria was a little too much,” added Jordyn Wynn, a sophomore business major. “Although ISIS had threatened to take action and has already performed several beheadings to innocent people, I think that the bombing of Syria just added fuel to the fire.”
Another opponent, Rachel Stanton, a freshman biomedical science/pre-med major, said she believed the United States should “work on our own problems first before we try to help anyone else.”
Economic issues should take precedence over handling problems overseas, she added.
Reaction to the airstrikes on the Tarleton campus reflected what several polls of Americans also have found. A CNN/ORC International poll of more than 1,000 Americans showed that an “overwhelming number” supported the airstrikes against ISIS.
However, fewer than four in 10 Americans favored sending U.S. ground troops into combat, the poll also found.
But Raymond Jones, a sophomore biomedical science and history major who is in ROTC, said the United States is just “flexing their muscles” with the air attacks.
“They really don’t want to do something serious or they would send over troops,” he said. “Nothing can permanently change until troops are on the ground.”
The latest reaction to the bombings is in contrast to a year ago when a majority of Tarleton students interviewed said they were opposed to the prospect of attacking Syria. But that was before ISIS began its reign of terror with beheadings, takeovers of communities and public facilities and vows to kill any opponents.
“No one should support violence,” said Dr. Alex del Carmen, head of the Department of Criminal Justice. “However, given the violent acts committed by ISIS, it is hard to imagine any other remedy to the threat they are posing and will pose to people all over the world.”
Many of the Tarleton students who answered questions said America needed to take strong action to keep terrorists from striking the homeland.
“We need to do what we can to squash them to stop them from infiltrating America,” said Alexandra Roitenberg, a sophomore nursing major.
Veterans who work at Tarleton also supported the U.S. airstrikes.
Ted Roberts, instructor of U.S. history and an Iraq war veteran, said his first reaction to the news was a “kind of sorrowful dread.”
“I know what the people and the fellows going in harm’s way are going to be experiencing,” he said.
But he said that ISIS is “a global threat. They represent a threat to the American people.”
Some of those interviewed expressed concern about retaliation and inspiring more acts of terrorism against Americans.
“I believe our reaction had good intentions for both the U.S. and our allies, but it sets us up for retaliation,” said Jade Stults, [ID TO COME] “Fighting fire with fire makes more fire.”
Macy Gilcrease, a junior from Crandall, said she is taking the middle road viewpoint and feared the strikes will just enrage and encourage ISIS.
“I feel like it was a good idea because ISIS kept making threats and we needed to show them that we are a strong country and defend ourselves, but I am also scared of what is going to happen now that we did that,” Gilcrease said. “I think doing it is only going to make ISIS madder and cause them to do another attack.”
She also said her father is a Dallas firefighter “so if something was to happen in Dallas, my family would be extremely affected.”
Nathan Mena, a freshman music education major, said he believed war was a way of life to terrorists.
“I feel to them fighting is natural,” he said. “In that sense, if ISIS gets suppressed, there will be another group that rises up.”
Nathan Carreon, a sophomore music education major, added: “The best we can do is ride out the storm and keep fighting because that is what this country is known for. Fighting for what we believe in – ‘merica.”
Dr. Jesus Velasco, associate professor of social sciences-political science, said anger is likely to increase among the terrorists and he expected them to continue sending messages to the United States.
“What is going to happen with the other branches of ISIS in Iraq and the world we do not know,” he said. “It is not easy to fight terrorists because they do not have an address.”
One thing almost everyone interviewed agreed on was that the fighting with extremist groups in the Middle East would not end soon, if ever.
“The war on terror has been going on for quite some time,” said Jason Fritz, a senior biology major. “I doubt that all of the unrest and attacks will ever come to an end, but I think it can be minimalized via military action over a period of time.”