Ex-middie's family won't hold breath for school reforms Daughter quit after she was handcuffed

October 10, 1990|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Carolyn Dreyer is somewhat skeptical of promises to improve the treatment of women and the discipline of troublemakers at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Her family spent months this year waiting for the academy to do something about the sexual harassment of her stepdaughter, Gwen Dreyer. The wait turned out to be in vain.

Midshipman Gwen Dreyer, 19, resigned in May, saying the academy had failed to adequately punish the male midshipmen who handcuffed her to a urinal, taunted her and photographed her in December 1989.

Carolyn Dreyer said she now will wait to see if the academy fully adopts and enforces the reforms unveiled yesterday by officials who re-investigated her stepdaughter's complaint. "I'm not hopeful that they can clean their own house," she said.

The academy failed to take the handcuffing incident seriously until the family discussed it with reporters last May, she said. The subsequent stories attracted national attention, along with angry calls for investigation and reform at the 145-year-old institution.

Those calls were partially answered in Washington yesterday, when congressional and naval officials released four reports recommending 124 ways to correct inequalities. An investigation by the General Accounting Office is continuing.

A report by a civilian panel blamed a breakdown in discipline at the naval school for contributing to an environment conducive to sexual harassment and discrimination.

The academy failed to respond sensitively to the handcuffing incident, and future cases of sexual harassment "must be disciplined very severely," said the report by the academy's Board of Visitors' Committee on Women's Issues.

The five-member committee advocated placing more women in leadership roles and lengthening the superintendent's term to a minimum of five years.

It also came to the rather startling conclusion that the academy lags behind the entire Navy in the assimilation of women.

U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, a committee member, said she and fellow members of the Board of Visitors will monitor the academy to make sure it enacts the reforms.

"The act of handcuffing a woman to a urinal was demeaning and inexcusable. If there is any good to what happened, it is that the attention of the Navy and the Board of Visitors has been drawn to the status of women at the academy," Bentley said.

Women middies continue to drop out at greater rates than do their male counterparts.

A "persistent vocal minority" of midshipmen, officers, faculty, staff and graduates has contributed to the problem by "openly expressing the opinion that women should not be midshipmen," according to a report by an academy committee studying women's issues.

Forty-five percent of the male freshmen and 38 percent of the male seniors believe that women do not belong at the academy.

Officials said better communication and education could help dispel misperceptions that hurt women, such as the belief that they receive preferential treatment. Some male midshipmen have complained that women do not have to meet the same physical standards and do not have to wear their hair as short as they do.

Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr., the academy superintendent, pledged to treat sexual harassment with "zero tolerance."

Hill said he already has implemented 96 of the 124 recommendations from the reports. Since May, he has toughened the penalties for hazing and launched an in-depth program of educating midshipmen about sexual harassment and equal opportunity for minorities.

Although she has not yet seen the reports, Carolyn Dreyer said she was encouraged by the pledge to root out discriminatory attitudes and hoped the reforms would extend to top academy officials who still harbor such prejudices.

The changes, however, will come too late for her stepdaughter, who has no intention of returning to Annapolis.

Gwen Dreyer is now studying engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She was pleasantly surprised when she was treated with respect by men at her new school and at the engineering firm where she worked, her stepmother said.

"She's just having a wonderful time," Carolyn Dreyer said. "It's a whole different world, and she just can't get over it."

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