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Equity, excellence and the Coast Guard Academy

Before his assignment as current superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, Rear Admiral Bill Kelly (‘87 graduate) said he would continue efforts to make the academy "a center of excellence for inclusion and equity mindedness.” Kelly has had numerous human resources-related assignments in his long career in the Coast Guard. Some of these assignments, however, directly call into question how the campus can become a center of excellence while highlighting its own shortcomings. 

Since 2015 Kelly has been the chair of the academy’s Board of Trustees and has simultaneously served as chief of human resources (a rank of CG-1) for the entire Coast Guard; that rank is the final appeal authority for academy disenrollment cases. Per regulation 1-5-01 e2 “...The cadet may appeal the Superintendent's decision by writing to Commandant (CG-1) via the Superintendent…” This means Rear Admiral Kelly has had direct oversight of academy failures for the past four years, including a rash of toxic incidents ranging from a rise in sexual assault to racial slurs by staff to bullying to other inequities, such as black cadets being disproportionately punished in the barracks. 

Excellence is defined in the dictionary as being outstanding or extremely good. The Coast Guard’s own Diversity and Inclusion policy statement says, “it is our duty to ensure that all members belong and are valued in solving the complex problems that the Coast Guard faces. This is paramount to... achieving mission excellence.” Are all members experiencing excellence at the academy? Given the unique role of a military service academy and its tremendous influence on the culture and leadership of the entire 87,000-member service (including auxiliarists and civilian employees), it is imperative to our nation (and New London) to get it right on the New London campus. 

In 2016 Lt. Charles Lumpkin, a company officer, used the n-word to “show its offensive impact,” was spoken to by a senior faculty member, and apologized to his company of cadets but was not disciplined.” In September 2017, cadets alleged that when “discrimination is reported to leadership, they don't take it seriously, and there's a tendency to play it down.” The academy’s own chief diversity officer stated the campus “ not unlike any institution in America, is fraught with racism, misogyny and other kinds of discrimination and prejudicial treatment.” After 2015, there was an increase in disciplinary action towards black cadets who, “... in particular, received disciplinary action more often than white cadets.”  

Equity in gender treatment also took a dive after 2016. “The anonymous 2018 gender relations survey completed by cadets at the academy shows that 45 percent of women and 17 percent of men said they experienced sexual harassment, up from 36 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in 2016.” A female instructor was subjected to years of bullying and harassment, and seemingly no accountability; “the department head went on to bully another [female] member of the academy.”  

The Coast Guard Academy can claim statistics of convenience when it comes to diversity. However, “diverse representation without inclusion degrades our readiness” according to the Coast Guard’s policy statement. “The Coast Guard’s ability to respond to emerging threats in a fast-paced, ever changing world requires that we maximize the full potential of our diverse workforce.” Yet the academy routinely fails to identify bias and barriers within the system, policies, and procedures while failing to take effective action. The result isn't the “full potential of our diverse workforce” but a climate that is not “excellent” or “equitable” for many cadets, staff, and faculty, and even toxic to some. Such environments are national security issues because they prevent the Coast Guard from maximizing the “full potential of our diverse workforce.” 

As a longtime New London resident with deep affection for the New London community as well as its most prestigious guests, like the academy, I encourage the leadership to make USCGA a true campus of excellence with equity and inclusion.

W. Keith Kimball is a New London resident and admirer of the USCGA. 


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