Investigations find that two Coast Guard Academy cadets harassed black classmate

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London is seen from the sky Tuesday, May 17, 2016.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London is seen from the sky Tuesday, May 17, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — A Coast Guard investigator has recommended that two Coast Guard Academy cadets be disciplined for harassing a black classmate.

The incident in question happened on Oct. 26, when a black cadet and his roommate, a white cadet, were doing homework in their room. A third cadet, also white, entered the room and played a song "associated with southern pride," said academy spokesman David Santos.

The black cadet went to ask a diversity peer educator, cadets who volunteer to be the "go to" on topics involving race, gender and sexual orientation, how to handle the situation. When he returned to his room, he found that the background to his laptop had been changed to the Mississippi state flag, which features the Confederate battle emblem. When asked about it, his roommate told him it was "just a joke," Santos said.

A Coast Guard investigator recommended the two cadets be charged with two violations of the Regulations of the Corps of Cadets — failure to use good judgment and lack of or failure of respect. Capt. Melissa Rivera, commandant of cadets, will decide whether to dismiss the charges or punish the cadets. Both violations are class I violations, for which punishment ranges from demerits to a recommendation for disenrollment.

The cadet reported the incident to two faculty members, who reported it to Aram deKoven, the school's chief diversity officer, prompting a criminal and an administrative investigation.

The investigations found that by changing the background to the Mississippi flag, the two white cadets "committed prohibited harassment by creating an offensive environment on the basis of race," Santos said. "Knowing the African American cadet found the playing of the song offensive, the Caucasian cadets escalated the situation from consensual debate to prohibited harassment when they changed the computer background."

Four days after the incident occurred, Superintendent Rear Adm. James Rendon held an academy-wide meeting, saying the school "will not tolerate racist behavior of any kind."

j.bergman@theday.com

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