Naval Academy is chided on sexism Toughen penalties, advisory panel says

October 10, 1990|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Naval Academy must crack down on sexual harassment to rid the school of attitudes toward women that would never be tolerated in the rest of the Navy or the Marine Corps, a committee of the school's Board of Visitors said yesterday.

The five-member committee, appointed after widespread reports of sexual harassment and hazing surfaced last spring, called for harsh penalties for those violations, including dismissal from the academy.

"It is essential that the academy lead the fleet, not follow the fleet, in eliminating bigotry, prejudice and sexism," said the committee's report, the product of a five-month investigation.

The probe was spurred by an incident last December in which Gwen Dreyer, a midshipman from Encinitas, Calif., was dragged from herroom at Bancroft Hall, handcuffed to a urinal and taunted and photographed by male classmates. Ms. Dreyer reported the incident to a newspaper after she resigned in May.

Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr., the academy superintendent, appointed the committee after reports of the Dreyer case led to allegations of other incidents of racial and sexual harassment at the school.

Yesterday, Admiral Hill pledged to "do everything to follow through" onthe committee's recommendations, including assigning more female officers to the faculty and staff and keeping the Board of Visitors, an advisory panel appointed by the president, informed of disciplinary cases involving harassment and discrimination.

Already, he said, the academy has "completely overhauled our conduct system and put in place procedures to make sure" incidents of sexual harassment "will be treated as such."

In addition, the academy has revamped its plebe summer program to include sensitivity training for incoming freshman and has required squad leaders who supervise them to take "positive motivational leadership training."

But Carolyn Dreyer, Ms. Dreyer's stepmother, was skeptical.

"Admiral Hill says they've implemented things, but what they say and what happens in Bancroft Hall can be two different things," she said.

The academy staff members "are all well-meaning," she added. "But they need help in identifying what sexual harassment is."

Ms. Dreyer, now a student at California Polytechnic Institute in San Luis Obispo, could not be reached.

The committee chided Admiral Hill for his response to the Dreyer incident, calling it "insensitive to sexual harassment issues."

The two men who dragged Ms. Dreyer from her room were punished with demerits and the loss of about a month's leave. Eight others involved received warning letters from Admiral Hill.

The committee also scolded the Board of Visitors for not actively overseeing procedures for assimilating female midshipmen.

The committee found that the academy lagged behind the rest of the Navy in its assimilation of women.

It said that a "breakdown in civility and discipline" at the academy contributed to "an environment conducive to sexual harassment and discrimination." What many midshipmen considered harmless pranks could "only be described as unacceptable, cruel and dehumanizing," the committee said.

In one instance reported last spring, a former midshipman, whose last name is Vaca, was not allowed to urinate without the permission of an upperclassman and was forced to call himself Midshipman "Caca."

In another, a female freshman said she suffered the indignity of having to stand in a windowless room, listening to a harangue about the importance of properly walking the halls of the dormitory, even though her menstrual period had started and blood had soaked her uniform shorts.

While the committee said instances of sexual harassment should be "disciplined very severely," it gave no specifics other than dismissal.

The committee recommended extending the superintendent's tour of duty at the academy to a minimum of five years instead of three to ensure greater continuity in policy.

It also called for simplifying and clarifying the code of conduct and recommended ending a program by which midshipmen dismissed for conduct violations could return to the academy after serving time in the fleet as enlisted sailors.

In a report circulated in July, Rear Admiral Ming E. Chang, the Navy's inspector general, complained that midshipmen saw the program as a defect in the conduct system because it allowed midshipmen who committed serious violations to graduate.

Although the Board of Visitors committee plowed little new ground, its report synthesized those of three others -- the Women Midshipmen Study Group, the chief of naval personnel and the Navy's inspector general -- that also examined conditions at the academy.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., a member of the Board of Visitors, called the report neither "a white wash nor a witch hunt" and praised the "full cooperation" of academy officials.

She added that it was only "a first step" and promised to continue to monitor progress there.

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