Courtney, other Dems, probe claims of harassment, racial disparities at Coast Guard Academy
Washington – Concerned about complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and racial disparities at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Rep. Joe Courtney and two other Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked the new Coast Guard commander, Admiral Karl Shultz, for information and internal records that would aid them in an investigation.
The lawmakers asked Shultz to provide them with “all documents, including authority memoranda, investigative reports, panel sheets, final action memoranda and post-investigation talking points” regarding allegations of harassment or bullying made by any student or faculty member of the academy during the past three years and the results of any investigations conducted to examine these allegations.
The Coast Guard reported to Congress in March that there were five reports of sexual assault or other sexual offenses in the academy in the 2015-2016 school year, four of which were prosecuted. The report says there was insufficient evidence in one case.
The lawmakers asked Shultz to respond within 30 days, by July 13.
Courtney, who is co-chair of the Congressional Coast Guard Caucus, was joined by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight of the Coast Guard. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also signed the letter to Shultz.
The Coast Guard Academy has recently drawn fire for poor grades on the “Equity Scorecard,” a study by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California that tracks academic data, including graduation rates, by race, ethnicity and gender.
The Equity Scorecard reported that “black/African American cadets have been consistently less likely to graduate than the all-cadet average.”
The scorecard also said black cadets suffered from a disproportionately high share of disciplinary actions.
“It is critical that the Coast Guard respond effectively and decisively to the Equity Scorecard results,” the lawmakers wrote Shultz.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy followed the House lawmakers in their own letter to Shultz Wednesday requesting information on racial disparity at the academy.
“We are grateful for the efforts of the U. S. Coast Guard to address these issues and the vital role the U.S. Coast Guard has in protecting U.S. citizens from harm,” the senators wrote. “However, we hear from constituents and from public reports of continuing, troubling problems that must be addressed systematically and fully.”
In a statement, Academy Superintendent Rear Admiral James Rendón said “at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy we take any and all reports of discrimination seriously, and will remain steadfast in our efforts to provide a climate that promotes a culture of respect and inclusion.”
“We are thankful for the opportunity we had to host the congressional staff delegation this past April, and we look forward to future visits by congressional members and their staff members,” Rendón said. ” We want to ensure they have a full understanding of our efforts, successes, challenges, and commitment.”
The Coast Guard admiral also said academy officials met with members of the local chapter of the NAACP earlier this week,”to confirm that incidents reported to them mirror those reported to academy officials in accordance with Coast Guard policy.”
Courtney said that after media reports surfaced last summer of misconduct at the Coast Guard Academy, he spent a full day at the campus in October meeting with staff and cadets “to assess the situation.”
During that visit, I spent an hour directly meeting with minority cadets while they frankly described experiences that were troubling,” he said.
Courtney also said that at the time the Coast Guard was the first federal service academy to undergo the Equity Scorecard process to evaluate educational outcomes. As part of that process, the academy established an Equity Task Force to assess the results of the report.
“As a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Coast Guard Caucus, I will continue to closely monitor this process,” Courtney said.
Courtney and his Democratic colleagues also said they were “troubled” that Captain Kevin Lopes, the former head of the academy’s management team, is still on the academy’s teaching staff. Lopes was relieved of his management duties after an investigation earlier this year found he bullied a subordinate.
In February, the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual harassment and violence at the U.S. military service academies for the 2016-2017 academic year and found an increase in incidents, from 86 to 112 from the year before.
But the report only covered the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy because the Coast Guard Academy is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon.
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