Naval Academy names its first Black female brigade commander

Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber will be brigade commander for the spring semester, according to the Naval Academy. Brigade commander is the highest leadership position within the student body.


By LAUREN LUMPKIN | The Washington Post | Published: November 9, 2020

Note: This article has been corrected.

A Black woman will lead 4,400 of her peers at the U.S. Naval Academy for the first time in the institution's 175-year history, officials said Monday.

As brigade commander, Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber will assume the highest leadership position within the student body, overseeing the day-to-day activities and professional training of her fellow midshipmen.

"Earning the title of brigade commander speaks volumes, but the title itself is not nearly as significant as the opportunity it brings to lead a team in doing something I believe will be truly special," Barber said in a statement. "I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history."

Barber, who is studying mechanical engineering, will be the 16th woman to serve as brigade commander in the 44 years that women have been allowed to attend the Naval Academy, the school said in a statement. And, as brigade commander, she will be the only "six-striper," a reference to the collar insignia worn on the midshipman uniform.

The brigade commander is selected by school leaders to guide the student body.

"She is a catalyst for action, a visionary, a listener, a doer and a person driven by compassion, by faith, by a fierce sense of passion and heart full of love," said Midshipman 1st Class Ryan Chapman, the academy's current brigade commander. "Sydney is the perfect person to lead the brigade."

Barber will take over the position next semester.

Since enrolling at the Naval Academy, Barber has competed on the school's track and field team. She started a mentorship program for middle school-aged girls of color interested in science, technology, engineering and math, and organized a networking breakfast to connect current and former Black midshipmen, the school said.

Most recently, Barber convened a team of more than 180 midshipmen, faculty and alumni to promote diversity, inclusion and equity at the academy, school officials said in a statement.

Barber also interned with the Department of Energy. The Lake Forest, Ill.-native's work in developing strategies to tackle education disparities in communities of color earned her a spot as a Truman Scholar national finalist.

"Sydney stands out amongst her peers, for not only her exemplary record, but for her clear vision of how she intends to make the world a better place and her accompanying bias for action," said Lt. Cmdr. Darby Yeager, a member of the academy's Truman Scholarship selection committee.

Janie Mines, who became the first Black woman to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1980, congratulated Barber online.

"This brought me to tears," Mines said, according to a tweet from an account for female veterans. "40 years later. Thank you, Sydney! Love you!"

Barber said people like Mines have paved the way for midshipmen like herself.

"We are the architects of our future, and every day we earn the right to carry the torch that was once lit by the heroes, pioneers and giants who came before us," she said.


Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Juliane Gallina's name as it appeared in an earlier version.