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Female cadet commands respect at her high school

January 29, 2016 at 6:15 PM EDT
Shantell Gonzalez of Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High in Miami refuses to let gender stereotypes get in the way of service to her country: she is the only female CO in her school’s Junior ROTC unit. Our Student Reporting Labs report as part of Outside the Box, a series on the ways that young people are challenging traditional gender roles.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally tonight, how today’s teens are battling gender stereotypes.

Shantell Gonzalez is the only female commanding officer of her JROTC unit at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High in Miami. Her story caps off a week of coverage from our Student Reporting Labs on redefining gender in our society. It’s part of our Outside the Box series.

WOMAN: Fall out. Attention. Right-face.

SHANTELL GONZALEZ, JROTC Commanding Officer: My name is Shantell Gonzalez. I’m the C.O. of the NJROTC program here at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning. C.O. represents commanding officer, who is in charge of the entire company.

NARRATOR: Being a woman in a male-dominated military branch comes with several struggles and conquests. But Shantell Gonzalez has never let that come between her and her passion for serving.

SHANTELL GONZALEZ: Difficult being a female and leading — trying to lead males, especially your age group, because cadets don’t think that they should be being told what to do by a person in general, and then being told what to do by a female is even harder for them to listen.

But they will eventually — if you do it the correct way, they will eventually follow what you will say.

NARRATOR: In order to keep up with the demands of being a commanding officer, Shantell attends a physical training course with current and former Marines.

Staff Sergeant David Castro (ph), an active-duty Marine Corps recruiter who mentors young cadets at the Miami school, says Shantell not only far exceeds the expectations of others, but also the expectations she has of herself.

STAFF SGT. DAVID CASTRO, Marine Corps: She comes here every day with a lot of enthusiasm. She’s very optimistic about her future. And she’s here to compete. And it shows on a daily basis every time she come here. Sometimes, she’s put some of our guys to shame.

MAN: I see her working out, pushing herself more. And when I see her do, it makes me want to push myself.

SHANTELL GONZALEZ: How do you think men get up to where they are? They work for it. Females just have to do the same thing.

NARRATOR: According to Secretary Carter, women will start taking on combat roles early next year, paving the road for future servicewomen like Shantell.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To see dozens of other profiles in this student-produced series, visit the Outside the Box page on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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