Off-campus houses a long-standing problem for Naval Academy
By PAMELA WOOD AND YVONNE WENGER | The Baltimore Sun | Published: September 7, 2013
Funneling a beer through a bong is Anne Kendzior's last memory of a night of partying inside a sparsely furnished off-campus house rented for Naval Academy lacrosse players. She says she crashed on an air mattress in a bedroom sometime around 1 a.m. and awoke on that fall day in 2008 to a fellow midshipman raping her, according to court documents and an interview.
The onetime Texas high school soccer star says she remembers asking in a haze, "What are you doing?" but she would allegedly suffer another sexual assault and consider suicide before ever speaking to authorities. "I couldn't tell anyone what I was feeling on the inside; I was so scared," said Kendzior, now 23, who has sued the academy and senior military leaders.
Kendzior's case mirrors recent allegations of sexual assault among Naval Academy midshipmen — and highlights long-standing problems associated with off-campus rentals that violate academy regulations. Such houses, which have brought alcohol- and sex-fueled parties to quiet Annapolis communities, often are leased by athletes or by groups of friends, according to Naval Academy staff, alumni and neighbors.
"That's standard operating procedure here," academy English professor Bruce Fleming said, adding that over the years, he's heard of many off-campus rentals, including lacrosse houses and baseball houses. "The students talk about it all the time. That's where they take the girls."
Academy officials say they shut down off-campus houses when they learn about them. Having such a house is a conduct violation that can lead to punishments ranging from loss of off-campus liberty to expulsion. Jabaree Tuani, who was co-captain of the football team, said last year that he was among four Mids punished for renting the house.
Such houses have been linked to problems over the years.
A scandal involving a midshipmen's use of the synthetic marijuana "spice" was also linked to an off-campus party house, according to reports in The Baltimore Sun at the time. Academy officials concluded last year that the use of "spice" was not widespread, but 16 midshipmen were expelled.
And a 2001 alleged rape involving midshipmen — which Anne Arundel County officials chose not to prosecute after the suspects resigned from the academy — occurred at an off-campus party in Arnold, The Sun reported.
The most recent allegations, involving football players Tra'ves Bush, Joshua Tate and Eric Graham, have brought national attention to the Naval Academy and stoked debate about whether the military is doing enough to stop sexual assaults among the ranks. President Barack Obama raised the issue during his commencement address at the academy in May, when he said sexual assaults undermine the military's strength.
The allegations also focused on the decades-old tradition of midshipmen renting nearby homes to avoid rules prohibiting most drinking and sexual activity — underscoring the difficulty academy officials face in strictly regulating social behavior among students.
Over the past two weeks, a military hearing officer spent eight days hearing about accusations that the football players sexually assaulted a female classmate who got drunk at "the black pineapple," a rented split-level about six miles from the academy.
On the night of the party in April 2012, the accuser testfied that the house and yard were packed with partygoers. She drank straight from a bottle of rum and took to the dance floor to "grind" to R&B songs with her classmates. She drank so much that she has little memory of the night, and through rumors and posts on social media pieced together that she might have been sexually assaulted.
The Baltimore Sun does not normally identify alleged victims of sexual assault; Kendzior has gone public with her story in hopes of raising awareness of the issue.
Kendzior filed a lawsuit last year in U.S. District Court in Maryland against the academy and senior military leaders, saying they failed to protect midshipmen from a culture that condones rampant sexual harassment, according to court documents.
Kendzior said in an interview last week that she was invited to the "lacrosse house" party by sophomores and juniors on the women's soccer team but that when she arrived the upperclassmen weren't there. They had asked her, "Do you want to come and hang with us, and drink a little bit?" Kendzior recalled.
Her father, Russell Kendzior of Southlake, Texas, is skeptical of academy athletic officials who claimed to have no knowledge about the illicit off-campus party houses. "This is beyond belief," he said. "These team houses are strictly forbidden — they all know they exist, but they look the other way.
Anne Kendzior said she entered counseling to cope with the alleged assaults, including another freshman year incident in which she said she was raped by a fellow midshipman in a hotel room, according to court documents. She was forced to leave the academy after her mental health was challenged by a panel of officials, the documents say.
"They asked me at one point, 'Do you want to be here?' I said, 'Would you?'" Kendzior recalled. She recently graduated from a university in San Antonio with a degree in mathematics and is working as a market analyst for a housing developer.
Kendzior and her father said they want to use their voices to force change at the academy. In the lawsuit, she seeks academic credit for her time at the academy and unspecified monetary damages.
"The team houses are banned, apparently, for a good reason," Russell Kendzior said. "There is a reason why.
"We're not going to hide in the shadows. This is an institution we believed in."
The academy, through its counsel, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, has not offered a point-by-point rebuttal to Kendzior's lawsuit. Instead, he successfully pushed for a delay in the proceeding until a similar case was decided in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
At issue in both cases is whether senior military can be held liable for allegedly fostering an environment where servicemen and servicewomen are sexually assaulted. Plaintiffs in both cases contend that the senior military officials violated their constitutional rights.
In July, the Fourth Circuit upheld a decision to dismiss the case that was being appealed. Rosenstein indicated in court papers that he would ask the District Court in Maryland for a similar ruling in Kendzior's case.
Much like sailors assigned to a ship, all midshipmen must live in Bancroft Hall, the massive dormitory in the Naval Academy Yard. Midshipmen do earn liberty on some weekends, when they don't have to spend the night in the dormitory. They can go home if they live close by, stay with their sponsor family or visit friends — but they aren't allowed to have an off-campus crash pad.
Midshipmen's parents and sponsor parents are also forbidden to assist Mids in finding off-campus housing and aren't allowed to offer their own homes for partying. The Naval Academy's commandant of midshipmen, Capt. Bill Byrne, sent a letter to parents and sponsor parents last month reminding them of the rules.
Property management companies report a mix of experience with midshipmen. While one agent said roughly 10 midshipman call each year — and sometimes their parents try to rent on their behalf — another said that in nearly 30 years she's never been approached about such rentals.
A two-story house at the corner of Maple and Glen avenues, not far from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, sometimes held parties that attracted members of the wrestling team, some neighbors said.
Don Ames said a group of five or six midshipmen stayed at the house, which abuts his backyard, but he had no problems with the men.
"They came on the weekends and they played all sorts of games, Frisbee and passing the football, all sorts of things," Ames said. The midshipmen sometimes had their girlfriends over, but their fun appeared innocent.
"They horsed around and drank a few beers," he said. "They didn't cause me any trouble. In fact, I was cutting my grass one day and one of them came over and said, 'Here, I'll cut it for you.'"
Neighbors of the "black pineapple" house raised concerns about raucous partying, but some said the midshipmen kept the grass cut and cleaned up after themselves. Neighbors believed two different groups of Mids rented the house during successive school years.
W. Minor Carter, a prominent Annapolis lobbyist who graduated from the academy in 1962, acknowledges he had an off-campus house with other midshipmen.
"It was a place to chill out and relax in private," he said, adding that it wasn't like the rowdy scene depicted in recent cases. He doesn't remember any hard liquor at his house, just beer.
Academy rules at the time were much stricter, Carter said. When midshipmen went out with their families to dinner in town, no one at the table — not even the parents — was allowed to drink alcohol, for example.
"In those days, there was a lot less freedom," he said.
Today, midshipmen still face a litany of restrictions on sex and alcohol, unlike peers at civilian colleges.
Among them: No drinking in Bancroft Hall, no drinking for first-year students, no sex on the Naval Academy Yard, no sex among members of the same company within the Brigade of Midshipmen.
Marine Corps Col. Bobbi Shea, the academy's deputy commandant of midshipmen, said the rules aren't meant to be overly restrictive. Rather, they're designed to mirror many of the restrictions graduates will face when they are young officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.
The 22- and 23-year-old junior officers will need to model good behavior for the younger enlisted sailors and Marines they'll supervise, she said.
"The first step of leadership is setting a good example," said Shea, who works with Byrne to supervise the nonacademic elements of student life at the academy.
The academy has programs to teach midshipmen about drinking responsibly and making appropriate decisions about sex. Over their four years at the academy, midshipmen undergo 30 hours of training on preventing sexual assault.
Each month, the academy holds a dinner for midshipmen who recently turned 21. They're allowed to drink at the dinner and given a breath test after three drinks, so they can understand how drunk they may be. There also are random breath tests on weekends at Bancroft Hall when midshipmen return from their off-campus liberty.
Getting messages about sex and drinking to resonate with young adults can be challenging, said Charles Corprew, an assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Young men, in particular, are developing ways to express their masculinity. Sometimes that can come at the expense of women, if men feel the need to control women as a way to prove their manhood, said Corprew, whose research has focused on sexual attitudes in fraternities.
In a environment like the Naval Academy — where nearly 80 percent of students are men — it's important to discuss sexuality in a way that encourages openness. That may mean roundtable discussions of only men, he suggested.
An important topic for young men is the idea of consent, Corprew said. His university has a campaign called "Consent is Sexy" to remind students that "sex without consent is rape," he said.
On college campuses "with the hookup culture … the idea of consent is that there's a gray line," he said. "That line becomes blurred, particularly when alcohol is involved. Men need to understand what consent is."
Fleming, the English professor, thinks one way to reduce sexual assaults may be to decriminalize sex at the academy.
If midshipmen are allowed to have consensual sex, it will be easier to teach them about how to avoid problematic sex, such as sex between superiors and subordinates or sex with partners who may be unable to consent.
"The fact that any sex at all is prohibited, that poisons the wells," said Fleming, who has authored several books including one titled, "Sexual Ethics: Liberal vs. Conservative."
Fleming said the academy's sexual assault training leaves many male students thinking that even the slightest sexual advance is considered improper. He's heard from midshipmen that the training makes them feel all men are suspect in the eyes of the academy.
"They just let it wash over them," he said. "They're not on board with it. They're implicitly told that they're bad."
The most recent case involving the "black pineapple" house gives further attention to attempts by the Naval Academy — and the military as a whole — to reduce incidents of sexual assault.
The Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted last year, up from 19,000 the year before. The number of reported incidents rose 6 percent to 3,374.
During the 2011-2012 academic year, there were 80 reports of sexual assaults at the three military academies, a 23 percent increase over the previous year, according to a Pentagon report. The Naval Academy had 13 reported sexual assaults in 2011-2012, down from 22 the previous year.
The most recent case has received widespread coverage in local media, and the accuser and her attorney went on national TV earlier this year.
Carter, the lobbyist and alumnus, said some observers will inevitably think poorly of the academy based on the case. "It reflects badly on the academy to those who don't know the academy well."
But Annapolis residents know sexual assault cases are the exception rather than the rule, he said. Locals are more likely to know about the academy's positive contributions, such as the Midshipmen Action Group, which conducts scores of community service events each year.
During blizzards in 2010, midshipmen volunteered to go into town to shovel driveways and sidewalks, Carter said.
"They're great kids and this is unfortunate," he said. "It's not good."