Merchant marine academy alumni create task force to target sexual assault, harassment

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Graduates of the Kings Point-based United States Merchant Marine Academy are taking steps to address a history of sexual assault and harassment at the institution.
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation, or AAF, announced Friday the creation of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, a seven-member group of representatives from the maritime industry and different maritime academies.
“Task force members will seek to work cooperatively with the academy’s administration to develop a coordinated response to address sexual misconduct at USMMA,” said John Arntzen, chairman of the AAF Board of Directors. “By engaging alumni, parents, current midshipmen and representatives of the maritime industry, the task force will be able to contribute valuable insights and propose solutions.”
In July, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education issued a warning to the academy about its accreditation status, citing the school’s failure to meet five of the agency’s 14 standards.
The academy’s Sea Year, when midshipmen spend an academic year aboard a merchant marine vessel, was scrutinized by the accrediting agency.
The Middle States report said the marine academy needs to take steps “to build a climate of mutual trust and respect on campus and during the Sea Year.”
Academy officials suspended the program on June 15 to hold student training on acceptable conduct in regard to bullying and sexual harassment, but in July the program was partly reinstated to allow midshipmen to serve Sea Year on federal ships, but not on commercial vessels.
In August, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it would  create a team of independent experts to review both campus culture and the institution’s Sea Year.
The AAF task force will review the best practices for preventing and responding to sexual assault and harassment and will give recommendations on how the institution can best address sexual misconduct on campus and during Sea Year.
On Tuesday, the task force selected Self Solutions, a veteran-owned small business that uses of qualitative analytics to solve issues, to conduct an independent study on preventing sexual assault and harassment.
According to the AAF, the study will provide the task force with information on the best practices that can immediately affect sexual misconduct prevention and response at the academy, better implementations of existing strategies aimed at addressing sexual misconduct, the effectiveness of the Sea Year suspension as a means of eliminating sexual misconduct and increasing transparency of the institution’s efforts in implementing specific sexual misconduct policies and procedures.
Once completed, the task force will issue a report with its recommendations and also release the independent study.
Capt. Eileen S. Roberson, who graduated from the academy in 1980 and served as director of total force management for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, assistant for administration to the under secretary of the Navy and assistant for administration at DOT’s Maritime Administration, will chair the task force.
“Task force members represent diverse parts of the maritime industry and come from different maritime schools,” Roberson said. “We all care deeply about this issue and are united in our commitment to finding effective ways to ensure positive and lasting change.”
Other members of the task force include Jane R. Carpenter, the first female commander of the U.S. Maritime Service Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University’s Texas Maritime Academy, Capt. Kevin P. Coyne, a 1977 USMMA graduate and president of the Polaris Marine Partners, Mike Jewell, former president of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, Andrea M. Morrison, a 2010 academy graduate currently sailing as chief mate for Crowley Maritime, Thomas F. McCaffery, a 1976 academy graduate and the primary researcher and writer of “Braving the Wartime Seas: A Tribute to the Cadets and Graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Cadet Corps Who Died During World War ll,” which was published by the American Merchant Marine History Project, and Breanna E. Linsley, a 2016 academy graduate who currently serves as a naval architect at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.
“We stand ready to support the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in developing a facts-based plan for eliminating sexual misconduct and ensuring that current and future midshipmen are effectively trained in a safe environment,” Roberson said. “Self Solutions is the right company for the job given their extensive experience analyzing behaviors on ships and academy campuses.”

By Joe Nikic

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