New London leaders Tuesday addressed concerns of racial slurs and other disrespectful comments allegedly made at the Coast Guard Academy.
New London Rep. Chris Soto was joined by the city's mayor, Michael Passero, members of the New London NAACP and the ACLU of Connecticut, among other city and religious leaders at City Hall, who all said this kind of climate needs to stop.
The press conference was organized after an article in the New London Day highlighted issues of discrimination at the academy.
"I speak as a graduate, I speak as a former employee at the Coast Guard Academy, as someone who has always supported what the Coast Guard Academy has done, but I’ll never support a system that’s passive on racism or discrimination within the gates," Soto said.
He called on federal lawmakers, specifically Representative Joe Courtney and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, to investigate the reported issues at the Coast Guard Academy. Soto said he’s even reached out himself.
One cadet, for example, had hate speech directed at them, according to Soto, who says he’s talked with cadets.
"One of the frustrations there was that there wasn’t an accountability mechanism in the same way that we approach sexual assault, in the same way that we approach honor offenses at the academy," Soto said.
The New London NAACP said they’ve heard complaints of racial and ethnic slurs used by cadets’ classmates.
"If they’re saying that to each other, how are they going to protect and serve some of these same people they’re saying it to," New London NAACP President Jean Jordan said.
Jordan said the local chapter has reached out to the Coast Guard Commandant in D.C. and plans to reach out to the Academy again.
Passero said the city is serious about tackling these issues, they want to get to the root of the problem and will help the academy do that.
The Coast Guard Academy released a statement in response:
"The Coast Guard Academy is not unique from other military academies and institutions of higher learning," said Dr. Aram deKoven, Academy Chief Diversity Officer. "We struggle to eradicate all traces of race and gender bias on our campus. And while cadet surveys do not point to widespread discrimination, we know that even one incident is unacceptable. So this is not an idle effort. We are committing people, time, and money to identifying potential barriers to an inclusive climate and then to act precisely to remove them."
“Reports of discrimination or mistreatment are treated seriously,” deKoven said. "And we have taken disciplinary action against staff and cadets to include removal from the institution where appropriate. Beyond responding, however, we are working aggressively in a variety of ways to detect and eliminate any inherent bias in our processes and have honest exchanges of ideas to help faculty, staff and cadets focus on respect and grow in their understanding of issues of inequity. We welcome help from our alumni, our neighbors and others who are willing to constructively partner with us."
Representative Courtney and Senators Blumenthal and Murphy sent a letter to the Coast Guard Academy’s Superintendent Rear Admiral James Rendón.
September 5, 2017
Rear Admiral James E. Rendón
The United States Coast Guard Academy
New London, Connecticut
Dear Admiral Rendón:
As members of the Connecticut federal delegation, we are writing in reference to a news story in The Day on Saturday, September 2, 2017, which detailed disturbing allegations from minority cadets alleging that an atmosphere of racial hostility exists on campus. As strong supporters of the Academy and its historic role of producing the Coast Guard’s leadership, we are sure you agree that a meaningful, transparent response is required to further advance the institution’s mission.
We recognize that the Academy has been engaged in a concerted effort to boost minority enrollment over the last eight years and has shown significant progress in the numbers at the time of matriculation. Higher admission rates have to be coupled with robust retention in order to ensure a higher graduation rate for minority cadets so that Coast Guard leadership ultimately reflects the multicultural makeup of the country’s population. Ensuring that the Academy’s environment and culture are free of any racial animus is critical to achieving such an outcome.
As supporters of the Academy, we are committed to helping accomplish that goal. In the meantime, we would appreciate your prompt response to this matter.
Member of Congress
United States Senator
CHRISTOPHER S. MUPRHY
United States Senator