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After investigation into racist tweets, Naval Academy leaves questions unanswered about focus on diversity, inclusion

By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital | Published: September 27, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck touted the recent commitment to diversity and inclusion, including the establishment of a new team dedicated to looking at systemic racism at the academy.

But even as the academy makes strides to address racism, an investigation into a midshipman puts a damper on the efforts.

The Naval Academy opened an investigation into Midshipman 1st Class Chase Standage on July 17 after a Twitter account linked to the midshipman posted multiple racist messages, including ones targeting Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in March, and the protests following the death of George Floyd, who also killed by police.

Approximately 10 weeks after the investigation opened, the academy announced that “appropriate administrative action” had been taken against Standage, Naval Academy spokesperson Cmdr. Alana Garas told The Capital.

Citing the Privacy Act, Garas would not reveal details of the administrative action, including when the decision was made and if Standage is still a midshipman at the academy.

The academy also did not respond in time for publication on queries about the length of the investigation and if Buck felt the investigation had any effect on his statements.

Standage did not respond to a request for comment.

Standage’s tweets are not the first investigation into racism at the Naval Academy, let alone the only one this year. Even though Buck has said in both a video in June, at the same time Standage’s tweets were brought to light, and in his September remarks that racism and bigotry have no place at the Naval Academy, it appears the institution still needs to work on eliminating it from the yard.

Buck recognizes that racism and bigotry exist at the academy, he said in his September remarks.

He encouraged those who do not agree to watch a video put together by the Naval Academy’s Midshipman Diversity Team, in which midshipmen share their experiences of being Black in the military, racism at the academy and speaking about race.

“To anyone in our brigade family who may hold deeply rooted racist ideals, I challenge you to not go on social media and pass judgment, but rather educate yourself by reading books and watching documentaries and reflect on your ideals,” Midshipman 1st Class Jeena Bermudez said in the video.

Buck said in his statements that he understands as superintendent, one of his duties is fostering a welcome environment for midshipmen, a task which he said he could not do alone. Diversity is “essential” to the academy’s mission, he said in the statement.

“Creating a Brigade of Midshipmen from all different walks of life is the best way to develop our young men and women to lead the diverse Sailors and Marines of our Fleet,” Buck wrote. “Diversity and inclusivity are also essential to fulfilling our mission of cultivating an officer corps of agile and creative thinkers who are equipped to confront our myriad and complex national security challenges of today and tomorrow. At the Naval Academy, diversity and inclusion are imperative to our institution’s success.”

In the letter, Buck also laid out steps the academy community has taken, in addition to the creation of the Midshipman Diversity Team.

Parts of these steps include virtual roundtables led by the Naval Academy Alumni Association with help from the Naval Academy Minority Association and incorporating lessons into the class of 2024's curriculum.

The academy declined to comment further on the initiatives.

The investigation into Standage is one of the recent longer investigations following a racist incident.

Standage’s investigation was one of three racist incidents the academy community tackled over the summer. A former member of the alumni association stepped down from his position after he went on a racist rant, which was made public through Facebook Live.

And the academy rescinded an offer to a Montgomery County man after racist messages posted to app Discord were made public. It took days for the academy to rescind the offer.

The Naval Academy also investigated hand gestures used by midshipmen during the Army-Navy game in 2019. The investigation wrapped up in six days after the academy determined that while the hand gestures were immature, they were not racist.

The academy also opened an investigation in September 2019 after a rope was tied in what appeared to be a noose. The investigation, which closed in 21 days, determined there was no proof of a noose.

The Naval Academy did not respond for a request for comment on the length of time for the Standage investigation.

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