WEST POINT – Cadets, faculty and administrators at the US Military Academy openly discussed progress in what they call “changing the culture” surrounding the past year’s increase in sexual assault report incidences.
During a regular West Point Board of Visitors meeting Friday, multiple panels discussed what they believe is a step forward, specifically regarding the results of their Stand Down Day on February 25, where cadets and staff took the day off from academics and sports to hold forums about sexual assault, as well as victim impact.
West Point Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams explained the sexual assault situation was critical on campus and said, “We needed to mobilize on this.”
Staff and cadet panels regarding the effects of Stand Down Day were overwhelmingly positive, with the majority telling the BOV they believe the response and time spent was adequate, but still insisted maybe more could be done opening up a dialogue.
Class of 2022 Cadet Tom Hall cited a statistic that approximately 40 percent of cadets didn’t believe sexual assault and harassment on campus was an issue, and of those, a minority of them were using the anonymous social media app Jodel to spread negativity about setting an entire day aside for awareness and discussion, some believing they had been cheated out of valuable time from their West Point experience.
However, this has prompted many cadets, specifically Plebes and Firsties, to reach out to those who don’t believe it is an issue to try and facilitate some understanding.
Class of 2022 Cadet Victoria Kearns said participating in Stand Down Day made her feel she was proactively addressing the needs and feelings of her teammates who may have been affected by sexual assault incidences.
“It’s given me a great sense of personal courage to stand up for my teammates that may not stand up for themselves,” said Kearns.
Cadets on the panel made a point of saying they believe the classes of 2021 and 2022 will be a catalyst and set the standard for this desired change in culture.
On the faculty side, all agreed that Stand Down Day had a significant impact on cadets and their understanding of sexual assault. For the most part, they expressed faith in the campuses systems for dealing with incidences and cadets’ prerogative to address the issue in any way they can.
Faculty concern comes from the notion that many young cadets are too inexperienced to understand when something is going wrong and how healthy relationships should work.
D-1 Women’s Volleyball Coach Alma Kovaci-Lee said she is concerned that many incoming cadets have spent their formative years overwhelmed with academic and athletic excellence, in order to get into West Point in the first place and have not had the time to explore complex social situations, including those regarding healthy sexuality.
“Right now, we have young men and women with virtually no life experience,” said Kovaci Lee.
West Point has made it clear; however, that they are taking this issue very seriously.
In addition to Stand Down Day, they have published the Collateral Misconduct Policy, written a formal letter to 2023 EverFi training and have held other events, such as Take Down the Night, where victims can have a safe space to express themselves through creative dialogue and spoken word.
As far as moving forward, the next step in progress the academy would like to see is increasing conversion rates for sexual assault reports. Conversion determines whether offenders will be publicly disclosed and is at the discretion of the victim. Following Stand Down Day, conversion rates were 15 percent and West Point’s general conversion rates are approximately 30 percent; which, according to administrators, is still low.
Since Stand Down Day, there have been seven restricted sexual assault reports and 18 unrestricted reports; restriction indicating whether offenders will remain anonymous, or not.