Naval Academy superintendent condemns racism, but midshipman's tweets present a challenge
By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital | Published: June 17, 2020
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — The Naval Academy has removed a plaque outside of Maury Hall that depicts a Confederate flag.
It was described as a first step for the academy in responding to racism and bigotry, highlighted by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, announced by Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck in a video released Monday.
“The next steps we take, as an institution, to create an inclusive environment to accomplish our mission will be far more difficult than removing a simple plaque,” Buck said in the video.
But soon after Buck finished filming, Naval Academy officials said they learned about racist tweets sent from a Twitter account identified as that of Midshipman 1st Class Chase Standage.
In a tweet from the day before Buck’s video address, Standage engaged in a discussion about Taylor, the 26-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by the police as she was sleeping.
“Her justice was received on March 13, 2020.”
The academy was made aware of the comments from the midshipman’s account Monday night, said Cmdr. Alana Garas, academy spokeswoman. She declined further comment on the midshipman or the comments.
Buck started his video by addressing another racist comment, made on social media made by a Naval Academy alumnus in Florida. The graduate has since resigned from his position with the Naval Academy Alumni Association and has been removed from its membership.
The incident with the alumnus reminded Buck of the “outdated, prejudicial attitude that still plagues our institution and community at large and put an even more significant burden on our black midshipmen and alumni, who are already carrying an immense emotional weight in the wake of the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery and countless others,” Buck said.
Racism, bigotry and sexism are alive in the Navy and Naval Academy family, the superintendent said, but they will not be tolerated.
“And as superintendent, let me be clear to you, now in this video, if you, yourself, harbor racist or bigoted views toward your fellow men and women in arms, there will never be a place for you in our Navy or Naval Academy family,” Buck said. “Never.”
Buck’s video was filmed on Sunday, although it was released the next day. On the day before it was filmed, Standage tweeted about Taylor. Standage also uses the same handle on Instagram, where he identifies himself as a midshipman studying aerospace engineering.
In screenshots of other tweets, posted to Twitter, Standage, who has since deleted his account, wrote “good shot” about a police officer firing tear gas at an unarmed protester before following up by saying the riots would be finished sooner if police shot unarmed protesters.
Standage, who graduated high school in California, did not respond to requests for comment.
It is unclear what, if any, steps the academy will take in response to the midshipman. However, his statements appear to conflict with Buck’s statement.
In removing the plaque, Buck pointed toward the Marine Corps, which issued an order to remove the Confederate flag from public displays. The Navy’s top official also mandated his staff to write an order banning the flag from public and work areas.
There have also been calls for the Naval Academy to consider renaming two of its building due to their links to the Confederacy. The first is the superintendent’s home, Buchanan House, named after the first superintendent of the Naval Academy who later joined the Confederate Navy. The second is Maury Hall, which was named after another Confederate naval officer.
Both the superintendent and commandant declined to discuss renaming.
In his video, Buck said the academy’s next steps will help the institution create a more inclusive environment and will be more difficult than removing a plaque.
The academy community cannot “wish away this reality of racism in our ranks,” Buck said, adding that the Naval Academy needs to confront it head-on if it wants anything to change.
Members of the academy community, especially those in positions of power and privilege, need to speak up when they hear prejudice, bigotry, sexism or racism.
“And make no mistake, condemning racial injustice and rooting out bigotry from our community is a moral obligation for all of us,” Buck said.