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Naval Academy reacts to systemic racism debate, as members of Congress push for more diversity

Capt. Thomas R. Buchanan, commodore of Submarine Squadron 20, addresses the crowd during a change of command ceremony at the chapel on Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. (U.S Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bradley Gee/Released)

Capt. Thomas Buchanan, commandant of the midshipmen, opened his Dant Daily story on May 29 by discussing the death of George Floyd.

“Whether fourth class midshipman or captain, all of us who wear the cloth of the nation have an obligation and an opportunity to show one another and the world what compassion and respect for human dignity mean in action,” Buchanan said. “In small and large ways, every day, we can be models of respect and responsibility.”

Then again, during his June 9 edition of his daily Instagram message to mids, Buchanan held up a sign saying racism and bigotry will not be tolerated at the Naval Academy.

Peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police led the country, people and institutions to examine, once again, how systemic racism is interwoven in their lives.

The Naval Academy is no different.

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Since Floyd’s death, both Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck and Buchanan have made statements declaring racism will not be tolerated at the academy. Buck’s statement was public, while Buchanan, in addition to his Dant Daily segments, sent out an email to midshipmen.

More recently, Buck sent out a video stating neither bigotry nor racism would be allowed at the Naval Academy or within its community. Buck ended the video with the removal of a Confederate plaque at Maury Hall.

The Naval Academy has not been excluded from discussions of race with U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore County, calling for two buildings on campus to be renamed as the buildings are named after Confederate sailors.

The academy also opened an investigation into a Twitter account linked to a midshipman that sent racist tweets.

The Naval Academy Alumni Association, which has a mission that includes seeking out and assisting young men and women in attending the Naval Academy, recently created a new committee to review its leadership organizations and operations. The committee was created after a Board of Trustees member resigned from a position with his Florida chapter after he made racist and sexist comments.

Racism, sexism and bigotry are not tolerated in the association, according to a statement from the association.

The Alumni Association Board of Trustees also voted to expel him from the alumni association membership, according to the statement.

“As members of the Board, and as alumni, we are shocked and disappointed that our alumni, our Alumni Association and likely the broader military community have been impacted and tainted by the bigotry of a Naval Academy graduate,” the statement reads.

The committee will present a report at the next association meeting in September.

Even before the protests, there were calls for the Naval Academy, and other military academies, to examine diversity among their classes. Data is not yet available for the incoming plebe class.

But the class portrait for the Class of 2023 shows that 8.3% of women who applied and 8.3% of men who applied were offered admission. More men, 11,791, applied than women, 4,541.

Of those who were offered admission, 88.6% of men and 82.2% women accepted.

So while the same percentage of women and men were offered admission, the class is nearly 75% men.

When it comes to race, approximately 59% of the Class of 2023 identifies as white. About 12% identify as Hispanic, with 7% identifying as Black and 8% identifying as Asian American.

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Prince George’s, along with Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, submitted legislation that would require members of Congress to collect and provide race, gender, ethnicity and other demographic metrics for academy nomination on an annual basis.

The legislation has bipartisan support, Brown said.

“My focus, my interest is to make sure that there is access for all graduates to enter in these fields, that we are doing our level best to make sure there is a diverse representation across all of the career fields,” Brown said.

All applicants to military academies need a nomination from a senator or congressman, although there are other options for more specific cases, such as children of enlisted military members or children of deceased military members.

“We need to see greater diversity in the armed forces,” Brown said. “More specifically, greater diversity in the number of students who are admitted and attend the service academies. (The) Naval Academy, West Point, Colorado Springs.”

He interviews about 70 students a year, he said, and because he represents Maryland, the majority are interested in the Naval Academy.

Brown prides himself on the diversity among candidates he nominates, he said. In the past, he has been among the top 10 congressmen in terms of the percentage of women he nominates. He also ranks high for racial diversity, he said.

For the most recent year, Brown made eight nominations to West Point, seven to Merchant Marine, seven to the Naval Academy and two to the Air Force Academy, for a total of 24 nominations. Of his nominations, eight were female and 14 were male.

Brown gave nominations to eight white students, four black students, three Hispanic students, three Asian students and one student who identifies as two or more races. Discrepancies in numbers are the result of some students getting more than one nomination, said Christian Unkenholz, Brown’s press secretary.

As a congressman in his second term, Brown has not yet seen one of his nominees graduate and he has not yet followed how they do through the academy. However, he said those he nominates tend to do well in terms of admissions.

Brown said he hopes his legislation will push other members of Congress to achieve diversity goals when nominating applicants for military academies.

Sen. Ben Cardin is supportive of Brown’s legislation, he said. Increased diversity at the academy has been brought up by Cardin, other Maryland delegation members and members of the Board of Visitors, on which Brown and Cardin both sit and Ruppersberger chairs.

To help increase diversity, the Baltimore Democrat said he has pushed other members of Congress to offer nominations to applicants in underrepresented communities.

“Ever since I’ve been in Congress, I have made sure that my nomination list is diversified,” Cardin said. “I’ve done that since day one in the Congress of the United States now the United States Senate and I am very proud of the candidates that I’ve recommended as far as representing diversity.”

Cardin does not track his nominations, said Tim Zink, Cardin’s press secretary. However, the senator “always aims for geographic, racial and gender diversity” in the nominations, Zink said in an email.

The senator admitted it is easier in Maryland to get applicants for the Naval Academy since there is so much local interest. For other members of Congress, it can be harder since there is interest in other academies.

Ruppersberger is also supportive of Brown’s legislation, said spokeswoman Jaime Lennon in an email.

In 2019, Ruppersberger offered nominations to seven female students, five black students and two students who identify as Asian, Pacific Islander or Hispanic.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer keeps demographic information, but his office does not share it due to privacy concerns, said spokeswoman Annaliese Davis. Stoyer does publicly release the names of the students that receive appointments.

“Our military academies ought to represent the diverse makeup of our nation, and I support efforts to make the military academies more accessible to students of color,” Hoyer said in a statement.

The military was one of the first institutions to integrate, Brown said. But it has also had problems with race that still persist. Of the four-star generals, few are black.

Increasing diversity within the military also involves the academies, he said.

“We want to send the very best to the service academies,” Brown said. “And we want that very best to be a diverse and inclusive group of young Americans who want to serve our country.”

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