Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Eight years after the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the NAACP signed a voluntary agreement to work together to boost the number of African-Americans at its 1,000-cadet Coast Guard Academy (CGA), the annual enrollment and graduation figures for Blacks remain in single digits.

Seven Blacks graduated from CGA in New London, Conn., in the Class of 2001, the year the agreement was signed.

The same number graduated from the Class of 2006, the first class for which Blacks were recruited under the agreement.

Subsequently, there were seven Black graduates in the Class of 2007, five in the Class of 2008 and four in the Class of 2009.

That makes 23 graduates in four years under the agreement, including CGA's first Black female valedictorian. In the four previous years the number was 33.

Leading lawmakers have grown increasingly upset with results even as they repeatedly are told the USCG is working hard to improve diversity in a service where only 311 of its 6,787 commissioned officers are Black.

There is only one Black admiral, Admiral Manson K. Brown, who graduated in the Class of 1978.

"The Coast Guard has just not paid attention to it. It is not antipathy or animosity toward it," said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "I think we're moving in the right direction and got the Coast Guard's attention and we're not going to let up."

Under a House bill, sponsored by Oberstar and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the Coast Guard subcommittee chairman, members of Congress would nominate candidates for the academy. All the other service academies have long used congressional nominations.

On a 385-11 vote last month, the House advanced the legislation to the Senate.

The Coast Guard Academy historically has taken pride in viewing itself merit-based and choosing its applicants without regard to their geographical distribution among the states. As a result many areas of the country are unrepresented in the USCG officer corps. Other areas, such as, New York, California, Texas, and the mid-South have historically been over-represented.

Rep. Cummings, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, expects Black enrollment to grow with congressional involvement, at least in part because the House typically has about 40 Black lawmakers who would be effective recruiters in largely Black congressional districts.

The Coast Guard's position on the bill has been rather subdued. This is to be expected. The USCG is the last bastion of white male supremacy in the U. S. Armed Forces. Also, the USCG officer corps is quickly becoming disproportionately female. About 30% of the cadets at the CGA are females, and mostly white. The Coast Guard Academy, founded in 1876, is the smallest U.S. military academy with an enrollment of about 1000 cadets. Women represent about 30 percent of Coast Guard Academy cadets, compared with less than 20 percent at the Air Force and Naval Academies and about 15 percent at West Point.

The torch has truly been passed to a new gender at CGA. This raises other question of a more practical nature. It raises questions of a safety and seaworthy nature. The nation's oldest continuous seagoing service may find some of its high endurance cutters unseaworthy on long deployments. There are some anatomical factors that the Personnel Assignments branch must take into consideration since the pool of available officers will be disproportionately full of female officers.

This is the big question, can too many female officers in strategic assignments on a vessel or shore unit render it UNSEAWORTHY for 7 days out of 30? It would appear that it is quite possible because of the McClintock Effect. Women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of their menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level. If every female officer on the ship or unit is experiencing the same symptoms at the same time, the unit would be rendered unseaworthy or not fit for full duty. The lives of every member of the crew would be in danger.

The McClintock effect (also known as "Menstrual Synchrony") is the observed phenomenon that the menstrual cycles of women who live together (such as in prisons, convents, bordellos, dormitories, military academies etc.) will tend to become synchronized over time.

The phenomenon, sometimes referred to as the "social regulation of ovulation," was first formally studied by psychologist Martha McClintock, who reported her findings in Nature in 1971. It has also been noted in small animals such as mice and guinea pigs. Females affected will tend to follow the 'lead' of the alpha female.
Since the research on the McClintock effect is inconclusive, many important questions remain, such as why it evolved and how much pheromones and Jacobson's organ play a role. One possible explanation on why it evolved is: because it allows more males to mate and pass their genes. If only one female of the group was ready to mate at a time, the most probable outcome would be that only the more dominant male would have access to her.
It is apparent from research that some women at least synchronize after living together for a time. Yet others, in virtually identical living conditions, do not. (McClintock, Martha K., Menstrual Synchrony and Suppression. Nature. 229: 244-45, 1971.)
Let me attempt to answer a question asked by Gloria Steinam of Ms. Magazine, If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the
beginning of our menstrual cycle
, when the female hormone is at its
lowest level, then why isn't it logical to say that in those few days
women... (are not fully capable of performing the duties of a ship’s officer or unit commander in a dangerous situation with a very small margin for error?)

According to a Coast Guard Task Force Report completed in 2007 “Women generally outperform their male counterparts in both academic and military requirements”. (The Report, page 39). If that is truly the case, then it is a good thing the Academy is not a regular “Joe College”. The percentage of women in the student body could easily go from 30 percent to 70 or 80 percent using a strictly merit system of admissions. Men would have to seek “affirmative action” in order to gain admission. The Admissions Office would have to consider GENDER as a factor in admissions, along with race, SAT scores, and extra-curricular activities. This is how the Whole-man Concept of recruiting works.

One out of three cadets graduating in the Class of 2007 from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy was a woman, making it the largest class of female cadets to graduate from CGA.

The CGA's superintendent, Rear Adm. J. Scott Burhoe, who is not an Academy graduate himself, likes the existing "merit-based system," but would be "fine" if Congress adopted congressional nominations.

"I think for us part of our fear is the unknown, really, right now," he said in an interview with The Associated Press (AP).

The Coast Guard Academy graduated its first Black officer, Merle James Smith, in the Class of 1966. He is presently an adjunct law professor at the Coast Guard Academy.

There were two Black graduates in the Class of 1968. They were Kenneth Boyd and London Steverson.

(At right, newly commissioned Ensign London Steverson, June 1968)
They are usually referred to as the Kennedy Cadets, because they were recruited in response to a directive from President John F. Kennedy to find and admit qualified Black applicants. There was one Black graduate in the Class of 1970, Willie Pickrum. In the 43 years since 1966, only about 2 percent of CGA's graduates have been Black and only once has there been as many as 10 in a single year.

Two years ago, the academy drew national attention when a noose was found among a Black cadet's personal effects on the CGA's training ship, the USCGC Eagle. That was followed with the appearance of a noose for a white officer who was conducting race relations training at CGA. This was part of the fallout from the court-martial of Webster Smith, the first cadet in Coast Guard history to receive a General court-martial. Webster Smith is Black. His father graduated from CGA in the Class of 1978 along with Admiral Manson K. Brown, the only Black admiral serving in the USCG. Admiral Brown is a strong candidate to become the USCG's first Black Commandant.

Rep. Cummings said at the time that the Coast Guard must redouble its efforts in the face of a clear attempt to threaten and intimidate efforts to increase diversity.

An investigation involving 50 federal agents including the FBI produced no arrests or motives.

At present, CGA reports it has 136 minorities, with 72 Hispanics, 39 Asians and 25 African-Americans.

The USCG and CGA, when asked by The AP how many African-Americans were admitted to CGA as a result of the NAACP memorandum of agreement, said, through spokeswoman LT. Nadine Santiago, that there was no way to know. That is a polite way to say "none", not one.

Lawmakers lashed out at the Coast Guard at a hearing last June for admitting so few Blacks for the 2013 class only months after a previous hearing and discussion about the need to provide for congressional nominations.

"I am shocked that you only have five African Americans entering the class of 2013 and that you only offered two African American students appointments that were coming directly from high school that did not need additional preparation from a preparatory school," Oberstar said. "The Naval Academy found 149 fully qualified African-Americans to attend their Academy."

The U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md.,, accepted 1,328 as cadets for its Class of 2013. For that class, 327 African-Americans applied, with 138 of the 149 blacks deemed fully qualified accepting offers of admission.

The Coast Guard, for its own 2013 Class, offered admission to 411 of 1,672 applicants, with 290 accepting offers. Only 47 Blacks had applied, with seven being offered admission and five accepting. At the same time, 26 Hispanics and five Asian-Americans accepted admission.

"We are able to attract the cream of the crop, but more importantly, the Coast Guard has the ability to select applicants which meet its demands," Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., a Coast Guard veteran, said of the current admissions system "This could continue with a direct nomination process, but it injects a component that removes the academy from the equation."

The Coast Guard must graduate 70 percent of its cadets in science, math and technological fields. For the 2013 Class, the average SAT math and verbal scores totaled 1240, with the average GPA a 3.8, and half of the students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Using the present admission's criteria, many cadets are quick to point out that they made it into the CGA own their own without any help from anyone. Some Black cadets are foolish enough to say "I got here all by myself, own my own merit. I am not an affirmative action baby". Little do they realize how the admission's criteria and their records are massaged and weighted to arrive at their final score. The CGA has always referred to this as the "wholeman concept" of recruiting. The Admission's Office weighs certain things, such as, community involvement, athletic achievement, extra curricular activities, and musical or speaking skills along with who your parents are, before they arrive at that final magic number that determines the place of each applicant in the pecking order for an appointment.

Some cadets, like Cadet First Class Jacqueline Fitch, 21, Catonsville, Md., who recently became the academy's first Black woman to be named a regimental commander are quick to spout the party line. She wonders about making a change to congressional nominations.

"I know when I applied for the Coast Guard Academy one of the things that made me really proud is that I got into the academy off of my own merit," she said, explaining she was initially rejected and first had to go prep school. "I had to work really hard to get to the academy."

Hilary Shelton, the NAACP's senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said the Coast Guard asked to enter into their nonbinding memorandum of agreement in 2001 after the Coast Guard recognized its record in recruiting Blacks was dismal. Eight years later, he acknowledged that the current Black enrollment figures are "sad and unfortunate."

He was unsure about the use of congressional nominations as a solution. He said adding another step in the selection process could be "stifling" for recruitment.

"I am convinced that we probably need to do a thorough assessment of what we've done thus far and find ways of actually making it more robust," he added. "You need to work with community-based organizations like the NAACP to make sure that this great opportunity is there for them and indeed they can be successful."

There was a time when the USCG was serious about recruiting Black applicants for the CGA. In July 1972 LTJG London Steverson was reassigned from Alaska to Washington, D.C. to become the Chief of the newly formed Minority Recruiting Section at USCG Headquarters. He traveled the country looking for qualified minority high school students who could compete for admission. His efforts were rewarded in 1973 when 28 Black cadets were sworn into the Class of 1977, and again in 1974 when 20 Black cadets were admitted as part of the Class of 1978. When Steverson's efforts proved to be successful, the USCG expressed doubts about being able to absorb so many Black cadets in such a short time into the previously all-white CGA. Steverson was marginalized. His efforts were hampered. His supervisor attempted to give him an adverse fitness report. Eventually, he was transferred.

(LT Steverson, and LTJG Thorn with the Black cadets in the Class of 1978, including ADM Manson K. Brown, and Cleon Smith, the father of Webster Smith.)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the 60s-80s when we talked about "managing diversity", we really meant race and gender. Sadly, we still find ourselves well short of optimizing either or both of those elements. Both the enlightened intellectual and the practical project leaders of today see huge value in making certain his or her team is composed of members who bring not only gender and racial diversity but also a wide spectrum of skills and capabilities to the table. We want variations in expertise and age and MATURITY and ideas and CULRURE and any other factors of consequence that could help get the project done well. For too long we have celebrated what we had in common. That's OK, but the fault lies in pretending that we have everything in common. WE SURELY DO NOT and the better leader knows that and acts on that knowledge.

9:18 PM  

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