While serving in the United States Air Force, Retired Lt. Col. Sally Stenton said she felt her opinions were often devalued by other officers because she was a woman.
At the time, she was in charge of enforcing the rules of engagement, or ensuring the military abides by the rules decided by its leaders. She also handled complaints of criminal law within the Air Force under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including discrimination complaints.
But Stenton said she often felt disregarded when regulatory decisions were made.
“There’s always a fear, because people who discriminate against you are usually more powerful than you and can be very covert in their actions,” Stenton said. “I tried to adjust, but [it] unfortunately never got me very far. Some women were very successful when they brought [discrimination] up, some others weren’t.”
Six years later, Stenton, a 2017 master’s of law alumna in trial advocacy, advocates for other women in the military and is a member of the National Organization for Women, a U.S. feminist organization with more than 500 chapters.
Stenton will speak at the Military and Veteran Services Center’s Women Veterans Forum on Wednesday in Student Center Room 200. This year’s theme is “Her Story: She Wore Her Boots With Pride — Rising Above Adversity.”
Before her service in the military, Stenton worked in law enforcement.
“I ended up suing my employer for harassment, and won the lawsuit,” Stenton said. “I was #MeToo before it was a thing.”
Stenton views this feat as a defining moment in her career as the first time she stood up for herself within a male-dominated field. Stenton added that she wants to continue to use her story to advocate for women.
2017 MASTER’S OF LAW ALUMNA
“At the age I am now, and position that I’m in, I have a lot more freedom to address these issues without fear of retribution or losing my livelihood,” Stenton said.
Stenton, who received her law degree from Rutgers University in 1990, served in the Air Force for 21 years, and was deployed to Kuwait in 1999. She was stationed in Germany in 2005 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the effort on behalf of the U.S. to combat global, radical extremism. She also served in Afghanistan in 2010.
While there, she served as a legal adviser on human rights law and internal rules for the Afghan Air Force.
She was responsible for training lawyers and paralegals who would become part of the newly built Afghan Air Force, developed from the former Afghan National Army Air Corps.
Stenton retired from the Air Force in 2012 and became an adjunct law professor at Rutgers University. But she yearned to practice law again.
“I wanted to do the best I could for my clients, and that meant getting more education in the area of litigation,” Stenton said.
She attended the Beasley School of Law to update her skills and learn more about technology’s role in modern litigation. She now works for a firm in Runnemede, New Jersey.
Stenton said her experience has also helped her advocate for women’s rights. In her career, she has seen women not earn the same military decorations as their male peers despite doing the same work.
“Very often, I was the only female in whatever I was engaged in,” Stenton said.
According to the Pew Research Center, women make up 19 percent of the U.S. Air Force.
Stenton’s experience in Afghanistan was a defining part of her career as a woman in the military, she said.
“When I was in Afghanistan, everybody that I advised, all the Afghans, I was the only female,” Stenton said. “It was a very interesting experience, because they have a very different view of women, but I was always treated with great respect.”
Laura Reddick, the associate director for adult and veteran student recruitment at Temple, selected Stenton to be this year’s speaker at the Women Veterans Forum.
Reddick said as a woman veteran who stood up for herself in both civilian and military life, Stenton had the perfect profile to be a speaker.
“We tried to look at possible speakers a year in advance, and Sally’s story was amazing,” Reddick said. “The theme is rising above adversity. We have this event so women like her could tell about their challenges and their successes.”
Joy Parker, a 2017 master’s of law alumna in trial advocacy, had classes with Stenton at Beasley. They became close friends during their time together in the program.
Parker said she was inspired by meeting and befriending Stenton, whom she described as a strong feminist who helps other women.
“She takes action in her fight for equality and justice,” said Parker, now a public defender in Phoenix.
Parker added that Stenton’s experience and performance at Beasley make her a great role model for women.
“I can’t even do justice for the story of her experience,” Parker said.
Stenton said she was excited, honored and humbled to be chosen as the guest speaker at the event.
“I hope I can have an impact with what I say,” Stenton said. “This theme is my story, and I will tell it.”