Sage Santangelo ’12, currently a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, published an op-ed in the Washington Post on March 28, headlined “Fourteen Women Have Tried, and Failed, the Marine’s Infantry Officer Course. Here’s Why.” In it, she expressed frustration with different standards for men and women taking the Infantry Officer Course (IOC). Following its publication, the Marine Corps announced that it was changing one of the policies Santangelo criticized, saying it would allow women to retake the course in the future. 

The IOC is a physically demanding 10-week course which is required for admission into the Marine infantry. 

In her article, Santangelo argues that training for men and women in Officer Candidates School (OCS)—the original training that Marines must undergo to receive a commission—should be less sex-segregated in order to give women a chance to “establish the same mental toughness as men.” In addition, she advocates for more infantry-based training earlier in OCS and for an opportunity for women to retake the IOC.

According to Santangelo’s article, female lieutenants are prevented from retaking the course so as not to delay the rest of their training. However, Santangelo writes, “The uncertainty makes the test overall much more difficult than any of its individual parts… The male lieutenants who have taken it before have an advantage in that they know generally what to expect.”

In a phone interview with the Orient, she downplayed her own role in the recent policy change.
“I never intended for this to be about me and I don’t think it really should,” she said. “I just wanted to start a discussion and provide thoughts on how we could better set female and other Marines up for success in the future.”

Santangelo emphasized that she wrote the article for the purpose of contributing her voice to a larger conversation.

“I think the Marine Corps is very much trying to do this the right way and I just wanted to prompt this discussion and add my perspective as a female that took part in this effort,” she said.
Katie Petronio ’07 provided an alternative perspective on women in the Marine infantry. Petronio, a Marine captain and combat engineer, has completed deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2012, she wrote a piece for the Marine Corps Gazette titled “Get Over It! We’re Not All Created Equal,” in which she argued that the Marine infantry should not be open to women due to its physically demanding nature.

“Women are genetically built differently from men,” she said in a phone interview. “If the goal is to ensure that females have enduring long careers and that we retain females, infantry is going to be the worst way to do it.”

Instead, Petronio argued that the Marines should focus on integrating fields that women “know we can do for 20 to 30 years if we want to” without the extreme physical strain of the infantry. 
Petronio cited statistics on females who have taken the IOC course—out of 14, all but one failed during the first 24 hours of the 10-week program.

“Even if you are fully capable and competent and physically ready for it, your body will break faster than a male’s,” she said.

Petronio also provided a different perspective on retaking the IOC, saying it was “not to prevent women from getting another shot,” but rather to prevent Marines, both male and female, from spending too long waiting to retake the test.

“The controls are in there so it doesn’t hurt your progression in your career,” she said.

However, Petronio also emphasized that she understood Santangelo’s perspective on these issues, saying that she would have felt the same way as a second lieutenant.

“Because I’ve been in for much longer, I’ve been a part of planning things and I’ve learned over the years why we do certain things in the Marine Corps,” she said.

DeAlva Stanwood Alexander  Professor of Government Christain Potholm called the differing viewpoints expressed by both women “a tremendous credit to Bowdoin.”

“We have two strong-willed, successful, tough women who have come to different conclusions, and they are presenting their case not just to us but to a national audience,” he said.

After the publication of her article, Santangelo was offered a chance to go to Afghanistan while she awaits a place in flight training, which she plans to accept.

“I’m very lucky and humbled to have that opportunity and really looking forward to taking advantage of it,” she said.