Coast Guard Academy must complete mission to root out racial bias

When a Coast Guard helicopter spots individuals stranded on roof tops after a flood, its crew doesn’t consider its work done because it identified the problem.

Likewise a Coast Guard cutter, finding a vessel floundering, doesn’t signal that it must be an engine issue and sail on.

So while the U.S. Coast Guard Academy should be commended as the first federal service academy to subject itself to the process known as the Equity Scorecard, its job is not done. The report by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California has found that something is wrong. Now the task of the academy’s administration is to complete the mission by taking steps to fix things.

In a statement issued after the public release of the report, Rear Adm. James Rendon, the academy superintendent, recognized that reality.

“We will review the data in the report, along with other assessments, identify root causes, examine our policies and practices, and take action to improve them. In the years ahead, we will continue our broad effort to use data to assess and improve our programs,” read his statement.

The authors of the Equity Scoreboard reviewed the past several academic years and found some disturbing trends. Black cadets had lower academic performance and graduation rates. They were far more likely to receive tough disciplinary actions than were their white counterparts.

Perhaps most disturbingly, African-American cadets had a much higher disenrollment rate in the classes of 2015 through 2017, 43.2 percent, compared to a rate for white cadets of 11.3 percent.

The intent of the report was to identify potential inequalities in outcomes. Unfortunately, it found them. But this, the report notes, was only an “important step towards ensuring the success of the diverse cadets who are drawn to CGA’s quality education and service to the nation.”

It should be seen, as the report’s authors noted, “as a first step in a comprehensive process of institutional assessment and reform.”

Concluding that there is something wrong with the students, rather than searching for evidence of bias or institutional partiality, would be a mistake.

“When undertaking this inquiry, CGA should guard against racially biased interpretations that question the ‘academic and cultural’ fit of African-Americans and other marginalized groups through, for example, the characterization of a group as ‘deficient’ or lacking in effort and another as ‘well prepared,’” cautions the report.

Instead, the New London-based academy should “view the difference in educational outcomes as evidence of an academic and social environment that is not meeting the needs of certain cadets,” it states.

We recognize that a military academy is different. Unlike a traditional university, cadets are asked to subvert their individual needs and desires in the pursuit of unified service to the Coast Guard and their nation. So when the report calls for even more data collection that breaks down cadets by their component parts of race, ethnicity and gender, it goes against the grain.

Therein lies the challenge — identifying faults that are making it difficult for some segments of the academy student body to reach their highest potential without compromising the high standards and sense of duty before self that sets the military academies apart.

But if dedicated to the mission it has given itself, we are confident that the academy can achieve success.

The report recommends either creating an Equity Task Force or giving the existing Inclusive Excellence Council the job of examining the root-cause reasons for the documented inequalities and generating annual reports to measure improvement. The administration should do so.

In assessing the academy’s laudable self-examination, it’s only fair to note positive trends. The Class of 2018 will have the highest number of African-American and female graduates in the academy’s history. And the current corps of cadets boasts the highest minority makeup and highest African-American population.

The Coast Guard Academy is a treasure. Making it sparkle a bit brighter for all cadets fits well with its noble mission.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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