Coast Guard Academy must confront this challenge

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy has a troubling disconnect.

When Day Staff Writer Julia Bergman sat down with a group of four minority cadets she heard that racial slurs, ignorant comments and racially tinged disrespect are common on the academy campus. More troubling, the cadets told her when such discriminatory actions are reported to leadership, they don’t seem to be taken seriously.

When Bergman subsequently interviewed Superintendent Rear Adm. James Rendon, he said academy leaders do take the matters seriously.

“We do our best to act on them and make the right decision on how to deal with them,” Rendon said.

It is that disconnect that is the basis of the academy’s challenge. If acts of racial insensitivity, or outright racist behavior, are being taken seriously then the message should be getting through more clearly. All cadets must know that such behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences. Conversely, minority cadets need to know the administration has their backs.

Based on Bergman’s reporting, that is not the case.

The academy should fight any tendency to downplay this matter or hope it goes away. It needs to confront it forthrightly. Rendon said it will. The academy’s goal is to attract a diversity of cadets who will become tomorrow’s officers, providing a leadership that reflects the diversity of the nation the Coast Guard serves. It cannot do that in a climate in which minority cadets feel unwelcome.

Plaudits to state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, for turning up the heat on the academy. As a 2003 Coast Guard Academy graduate he speaks with great credibility. He called on the congressional delegation to investigate and “uncover, with the help of our federal officials, what’s really happening within the Coast Guard Academy.”

And they responded. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy issued a joint letter to Rendon, expressing concerns that the academy’s goal of higher graduation rates for minority candidates could be undermined.

“Ensuring that the Academy’s environment and culture are free of any racial animus is critical to achieving such an outcome,” stated the joint letter.

We trust the academy administration is sincere in wanting to provide the right environment for all its cadets. But it appears it is falling short and must do better.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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