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Our Say: A female superintendent at the Naval Academy could be what the Navy needs

From Capital Gazette - 6Feb

You could almost hear the forehead-smacking frustration over at the Naval Academy.

Sexual harassment among midshipmen continues to rise, with almost 60 percent of women and 20 percent of men saying they’ve experienced it, a new Department of Defense study shows.

If that weren’t bad enough, reporting remains virtually nonexistent. Midshipmen made just two informal harassment complaints and no formal complaints, down from 12 informal complaints last school year.

The report found the Naval Academy training program was strong. So apparently, underclassmen just didn’t get the message. We find that hard to believe.

Vice Adm. Ted Carter, the Naval Academy's superintendent, told lawmakers at a 2017 congressional hearing on sexual harassment at service academies that there was still much work to do. He hasn’t commented on the newest report, but as he prepares to wrap up his tour this summer his words still hold:

“We are not where I want us to be, nor where the Navy needs us to be."

Getting the academy — and the Navy — there may require radical thinking. It just might require a female superintendent.

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It should surprise no one that most colleges campuses have statistics similar to the academy’s figures. Nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

And, it’s the same in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated roughly 28,000 charges alleging workplace harassment or discrimination in 2015 — and almost half were based on gender, according to the American Psychological Associaton. Less than 14 percent of individuals experiencing harassment ever file a formal complaint.

This may be a societal problem that reaches far beyond the Naval Academy’s ability to solve, but it can and must do more. About 20 percent of the Navy is currently made up of women sailors. The service’s goal is to increase that figure over the next several years.

That means a toxic work environment in the uniformed services is a national security issue. A workplace with rampant sexual harassment is prone to absenteeism, poor performance and high turnover — all things the Navy and other armed forces have to avoid if they’re going to function effectively in the nation’s defense.

Midshipmen today told investigators that they frequently didn’t think the problem was serious enough to report or said they took care of the situation by avoiding the person who assaulted them, according to the survey. They fear negative reactions.

That means bystander training, if you see something say something, is required. And consistent punishments have to be part of a successful policy.

Yet if the purpose of the academy is leadership, this is an opportunity to lead on sexual harassment. Today, one of the academy’s six battalions is led by a woman, Cmdr. Elizabeth Regoli. There are women company commanders and senior enlisted personnel too. More are needed.

That’s as high as it currently goes, though. One woman has served as commandant of midshipmen — the equivalent of the dean of students at civilian colleges — but none as superintendent.

Capt. Thomas R. “TR” Buchanan was named the new commandant last month and we don’t expect the Navy will shatter the glass ceiling in Annapolis with a female superintendent this year. The pick to replace Carter is undoubtedly well on his way through the approval process.

But the Navy can ensure women are in line for these roles in the near future. Bold leadership is needed to turn the trends on sexual harassment.

The Navy can provide it in Annapolis.


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