Coast Guard Academy needs to send the right message

The Coast Guard is a mission-driven institution with a culture of being the good guys. For most of its history it has been a fraternity in the positive sense — a brotherhood that proudly takes care of the nation's business and each other — but inevitably also in the clubby sense. It's in the nature of idealistic organizations to devote themselves to the good that they set out to do and the sacrifices they make — and then fail to see that nobody is perfect.

When it comes to the task of rooting out racism that affects admissions, academic and athletic achievement, and graduation rates, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is not perfect. To its credit, the academy has recently speeded up the process, but momentum is growing for more urgent attention to the climate in which a cadet can get the message, "you don't belong here. You don't fit in."

That can be the message delivered, however unconsciously or unintentionally, to those the club sees as different.

All forms of discrimination for race, ethnicity or gender, whether overt or rooted in subtly different ways of treating minorities, were the subject of the Equity Scorecard the academy sought from the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California. Research by CUE was six months underway when four minority cadets made public their experiences and concerns to The Day last fall. Another nine months have passed, and despite the pledge of the academy superintendent, Rear Adm. James Rendon, of an "ongoing commitment" to assessing the problem, it's unclear that enough is changing. The scorecard, while a creditable start, has to be acted on or it was a waste of effort.

It has seemed to some members of Congress for a long time now that the Coast Guard Academy isn't adequately taking care of business for minorities. Last month, one of them, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., met with members of the local chapter of the NAACP and the national NAACP president. The local delegation went to Thompson with their reports of bias and intimidation at the academy after delays in scheduling a joint meeting with Connecticut's two U.S. senators and Rep. Joe Courtney. Thompson, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has urged his Connecticut colleagues to meet with their constituents from the NAACP.

Thanks to the "Vital Signs" findings in the Equity Scorecard, which Adm. Rendon has written in an Opinion piece in The Day will be "leveraged," the academy has a to-do list for evaluating ways in which the institution may be unintentionally setting up minorities for below-average performance. The Day reiterates its earlier opinion that there must be, as the report recommends, a task force or committee assigned to do that, independent of any wished-for outcomes. An academy spokesman said Friday that a team will be created to address that.

We also urge Senators Murphy and Blumenthal and Congressman Courtney to give high priority to meeting with constituents, including NAACP officials, concerned about racism at the academy.

An opportunity for a fresh start will present itself in a few weeks when the incoming Class of 2022 arrives to begin Swab Summer. The upperclass cadets who will lead the fourth class through their Coast Guard initiation can demonstrate equity and inclusiveness as an example to all those shiny new future officers.

The days of excluding women from the ranks of the cadet corps seem to be safely behind us, and the academy can be proud of graduating more African Americans this year than before. But if the academy doesn't take the remaining discrimination as seriously as any other issue it has faced, it can expect the matter to be taken out of its hands.

We expect our congressional representatives to spell it out: There are strong advocates in Congress, including Rep. Thompson and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, for doing away with the longstanding admissions process and instituting congressional appointments for enrollment, such as those in use at the other other military academies and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The Coast Guard Academy has maintained that its admissions standards are key to the effectiveness of the service, but that cannot serve as an excuse for exclusion.

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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