Lawmaker responds to alleged racism on Coast Guard Academy campus

NEW LONDON -- Claims of an increase of racism on the Coast Guard Academy campus have been met with harsh criticism from a New London state representative, who is a 2003 Coast Guard Academy graduate.

Four anonymous female cadets recently told The Day newspaper that racism is on the rise on the Coast Guard Academy campus. And, when they complained to superiors, it fell on deaf ears.

"Top leadership admits that there is a challenge," said State Rep. Chris Soto (D-New London). "The chief diversity officer knows that no campus is insulated from racism."

In a statement, the Coast Guard's Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Aram deKoven, wrote, "The Coast Guard Academy is not unique from other military academies and institutions of higher learning. 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.”

The City of New London is extending an offer to the Coast Guard Academy.

"We will stand with them," said Mayor Michael Passero. "We will work with them. We want to partner with them. We think we can offer them help in overcoming these issues."

The Academy says they now use a new assessment tool called an equity scorecard and all members of the department of defense and Coast Guard must take part in an annual climate survey.

"Coast Guard commander admiral Zukunft did not accept our March 2017 offer," said Jean Jordan, President of the NAACP of New London. "Our invitation still stands to meet with you in person to discuss these clinate matters with community stakeholders."

U.S. Representative Joe Courtney, and U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy sent a letter to Rear Admiral James E. Rendón, Superintendent of the United States Coast Guard Academy, after allegations of racial hostility on the campus were reported on Sunday.

“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.”

Soto's message to the four female cadets who came forward: Thank you for your courage.

"I have lived behind those gates," he said. "And I know how difficult it was for you to speak up."

Soto also says that, after speaking with cadets on campus, he is convinced the election of Donald Trump has emboldened some on this campus to behave inappropriately.