Bill to address racial disparities at Coast Guard Academy proposed as investigation continues

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London

Washington – An investigation into the Coast Guard Academy’s treatment of minority cadets continues months after members of the U.S. House and Senate pressed the service for more information about racial disparities.

Those racial disparities have prompted a lawmaker to introduce legislation this month that would change the academy’s admission policies and establish a panel that would determine its “cultural competence.”

A group of lawmakers in June asked Coast Guard Admiral Karl. L. Schultz 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, as well as the results of any investigations conducted to examine these allegations.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Connecticut’s U.S. senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked Schultz to respond within 30 days.

But the process of retrieving information from the Coast Guard about the allegations of the treatment of minority cadets has taken months, and the investigation is still ongoing.

The Coast Guard Academy says it currently has 1,073 cadets. Six percent are African American and 10 percent are Hispanic. That compares to 12.1 percent of the general U.S. population that is African American and about 17 percent that is Hispanic.

The Coast Guard also says 7 percent of its cadets are Asian, while another 10 percent claim two or more races.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight of the Coast Guard, Thompson has for years voiced concern about the treatment of minority cadets at the academy.

The congressman’s spokesman Adam Comis said the Coast Guard’s responses to inquiries made by Thompson and the other lawmakers, “was incomplete,” heavily redacted and contained information the Coast Guard did not want made public.

Courtney said additional information provided by the Coast Guard was appreciated, but the investigation of racial disparities at the academy continues.

“We were not satisfied with the initial response to our July request,” Courtney said. “After communicating that directly to Coast Guard Commandant and Academy Superintendent, we have since received a substantial amount of additional materials that provide greater insight into the issues raised in our inquiry. Our work is not done, and we continue to engage the Coast Guard as this process moves forward.”

Schultz has agreed to visit the academy with the lawmakers before the end of the year to discuss the issue – and to review an action plan aimed at addressing allegations racial disparities the academy is expected to release soon.

The academy declined to comment on the investigation, or on legislation that would change the academy’s admission policies.

“One of the main goals in our strategic plan is to further the important work we have been doing to cultivate a supportive and inclusive environment at the Academy,” Rear Admiral James E. Rendón, academy superintendent, said in a statement. “So we look forward to working with members of Congress to continue to diversify our Corps of Cadets who will soon be the future leaders of our service.”

The Coast Guard Academy drew fire for its poor grades on a 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 higher share of disciplinary actions.

“It is critical that the Coast Guard respond effectively and decisively to the Equity Scorecard results,” the group of lawmakers wrote Schultz.

Last week, Thompson introduced the “Coast Guard Academy Improvement Act,” which would, among other things, require half of the members of an incoming class be nominated by the vice president and members of Congress.

Unlike the other military academies, the Coast Guard Academy does not have congressional appointments.

“At the other academies we are allowed as members of Congress to nominate individuals for the service academies,” Thompson said. “We would just like to add the Coast Guard Academy to the process.”

Thompson said academy cadets come “disproportionately” from the coastal areas where the Coast Guard is stationed or has training facilities and more geographic diversity is needed.

Murphy said he is “eager to study whether selecting students through a congressional nomination process — like we do for other service academies — could help get us closer” to the goal of more diversity at the academy.

Thompson’s bill would also establish a panel to determine the “cultural competence” of the academy.

Cultural competence is defined as “the capacity of an individual or organization to work effectively in cross-cultural situations with individuals who are of a different race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or geographic origin, in a manner that values and understands diversity and to take action to prevent and respond to social injustice and inequity.”

Thompson’s legislation would also make a voluntary effort at the academy, known as the Academy Minority Outreach Team, a permanent effort to bring in and keep more minority cadets. It would also restructure the admissions office of the academy to be headed by “a civilian with significant relevant higher education recruitment experience.”

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