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Addressing issue of sexual abuse at U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

A ship's propeller on display outside the American

A ship's propeller on display outside the American Merchant Marine Museum located at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point on Aug. 31, 2016. Credit: Jeremy Bales

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy saw two firsts in the school’s history in June: The Sea Year training program was suspended and the academy was put on warning by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, its accrediting agency. Sexual assault and sexual harassment on the Kings Point campus and during sea training figured into both actions, touching off a series of events.

  • June 13: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx orders the stand-down of the Sea Year, an intensive program in which students are assigned to federal and/or commercial ships. Completion is a graduation requirement.
  • June 23: The Middle States Commission on Higher Education puts USMMA’s academic accreditation on warning, a first for any U.S. service academy by its accrediting agency. The Kings Point academy missed five of 14 standards. Among its directives, the Middle States report calls on the school to adequately address sexual assault and sexual harassment.
  • June 24: U.S. Maritime Administration officials and leaders of the commercial shipping industry have a “call-to-action” meeting to draft a framework on addressing issues during the Sea Year.
  • July 9: Foxx partially lifts the Sea Year suspension, allowing students to train on federal but not commercial vessels.
  • July 13: Members of the USMMA Board of Visitors, a congressional advisory panel, express shock at their meeting in Washington, D.C., about findings in a 2014-15 report regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment on the Kings Point campus and during the Sea Year.
  • Aug. 11: Report by Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III shows the academy’s progress toward implementing a 2014 plan of nine recommendations on addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment. More than half of the recommended action items were fulfilled.
  • Sept. 2: Thirteen members of Congress — including Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) — send a letter to Foxx supporting full reinstatement of the Sea Year.
  • Oct. 3: The Transportation Department announces it will hire Logistics Management Institute, a company based in Tysons, Virginia, to assess “the history, culture and climate of the academy” both on campus and during the Sea Year with regard to sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying.
  • Oct. 7: The USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation announces a task force to examine preventing sexual misconduct on campus and on training vessels during the Sea Year. The association commissions a third-party expert to perform a survey and make recommendations.
  • Oct. 18: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announces planned legislation to reform sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and reporting on campus and during the Sea Year.
  • Nov. 14: The Board of Visitors meets on the academy’s Kings Point campus, led by outgoing chairman King. Alumni, parent groups and maritime industry representatives call for full reinstatement of the Sea Year.
  • Nov. 17: Middle States representatives visit USMMA to remind them of the accreditation warning and a monitoring report due to the accrediting agency on March 1, supplying evidence that the school has achieved compliance with standards in which it was found lacking and can sustain compliance.
  • Nov. 29: President-elect Donald Trump names Elaine L. Chao, a former Labor Department secretary under President George W. Bush, to replace Foxx. Chao’s appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
  • Dec. 8: U.S. Senate passes compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2017 fiscal year, which includes some sexual assault prevention measures for USMMA. Many of the reforms already were mandated under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which required annual and biennial reports providing data and an assessment of USMMA student experiences on sexual assault and sexual harassment. The same day, the USMMA Alumni Association releases preliminary findings of the study it commissioned, which found “no evidence that Sea Year is unsafe, nor does it indicate a negative campus culture stemming from students’ year at sea” and that “the culture at Kings Point is neither tolerant of nor conducive to sexual assault.”
  • Dec. 23: President Barack Obama signs the National Defense Authorization Act into law.
  • Jan. 6, 2017: Logistics Management Institute’s report finds USMMA must fix problems with sexual assault and sexual harassment and says “a lack of trust and a climate of fear” keep students from telling officials when they or others are victims. Foxx authorizes reinstatement of the Sea Year on commercial vessels — in a company-by-company approach — for firms that meet credentialing requirements recommended in LMI’s report.
  • March 1: USMMA’s monitoring report on compliance with standards is due to the Middle States Commission.


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