Kings Point Alumni Say ‘No Justification’ for Sea Year Suspension

Photo: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Photo: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

The Alumni Association of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point is calling for Sea Year be reinstated after a preliminary study found no justification for its suspension earlier this year over concerns of sexual harassment and assault. 

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation on Thursday released an interim report summarizing the findings of an on-going study conducted by an independent third party it has hired to investigate culture on campus and at sea.

The release of the report comes after the Alumni Association launched its own Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force in October to address instances of sexual harassment and assault at the federally-funded United States service academy, leading the school to suspend Sea Year last June.

Leaders at the academy have provided little justification for the Sea Year suspension other than it was part of a wider effort to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault and to address the culture onboard vessels to “ensure Midshipmen are in an environment that is both safe and respectful,” a USMMA spokesman told gCaptain June. The spokesman said assured there was no specific incident that prompted the decision.

The Alumni Association on Thursday said the report specifically scrutinizes USMMA’s Service Academy Gender Relations (SAGR) survey data, a report commonly cited in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to suspend the Academy’s Sea Year program.

“Analysis performed by a senior researcher at a world-renowned research institute revealed the data shows no causal connection between Sea Year and incidences of sexual assault and harassment on campus, provides no evidence that suspending Sea Year will effectively address the issue, and is marred by shortcomings in research methodology and execution,” the Alumni Association said.

“Though our study is not final, we believe it is essential to share our findings at this critical moment,” said task force chair, Captain Eileen Roberson, USNR (Ret.). “We cannot risk the Department of Transportation acting in the coming weeks in reliance on statistically-flawed data that presents a misleading picture.”

For its part, the U.S. Department of Transportation has hired its own private government contractor to perform an independent cultural assessment of USMMA. The 60-day review was launched in October to immediately begin assessing the history, culture and climate of USMMA and the Sea Year Program. Once completed the full assessment with recommendations will be provided to Transportation Secretary Foxx. 

Below are five key findings from the preliminary reported published as is by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation:

  • The culture at Kings Point is neither tolerant of nor conducive to sexual assault, and is instead familial and tight-knit.
  • Midshipmen are not worried about their personal safety while serving on commercial vessels during Sea Year, and are confident in the ships’ chain of command and commitment to addressing incidents of sexual abuse and harassment.
  • There is lack of clarity among midshipmen about what constitutes sexual harassment both at Kings Point and during Sea Year.
  • Various factors, including incidents resolved outside of formal channels and occurrences not viewed as harassment, underlie the perceived under-reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
  • Midshipmen manifest an overall lack of confidence in Academy leadership, which extends to the administration’s approach to addressing sexual assault and harassment on campus and at sea.

The report also offers recommendations in three key area:

  • Improving USMMA leadership’s commitments to communication, transparency, and building a culture of trust at the Academy.
  • Developing a sexual assault and harassment curriculum that is positive in nature and that educates midshipmen on definitions of sexual harassment, coercion, hazing and bullying.
  • Reinstating Sea Year.