The safety and security of the young women and men at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) is a top priority for the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the USMMA. In June, Secretary Foxx directed the Sea Year halted in response to reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing, bullying, coercion, and retaliation involving Midshipmen during their time at sea. While new leadership at the Academy has instituted a number of measures to build a climate of trust and respect as part of its commitment to eliminating these issues, we have not solved the problem with behavior issues that are not only present at sea, but are affecting the campus culture. To get at this issue, in August, Secretary Foxx decided that additional steps must be taken to ensure the safety of our Midshipmen at sea and on campus, and also to promote a culture of transparency and respect for everyone.
Over the next few months, we will have independent outside experts experienced in assessing institutional and organizational culture examine all such aspects within the USMMA, both on campus and at sea, in an attempt to identify root causes and their impacts to the Academy culture and offer possible short term and long term corrective actions to address the issues. The intention is to have this independent company begin work as soon as possible, and senior members from the Secretary’s office, including the DOT Director of Civil Rights, DOT Chief Financial Officer, and the DOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration, recently visited the Academy to meet with faculty, staff, and Midshipmen in order to provide an understanding of what this campus cultural assessment will entail. In addition, they stressed the importance of forthrightness during the review in order to truly affect real change.
Understandably, many parents and Midshipmen have concerns about being able to meet all of the requirements for an on time graduation, and the Academy will continue to take all steps possible to ensure Midshipmen impacted by the a halt to Sea Year on commercial vessels accumulate the required sea days to graduate on schedule. In July, the Sea Year resumed onboard Federal vessels from the Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) and in August onboard MARAD’s Ready Reserve Force (RRF) vessels.
Sea Year remains a core element of the Academy’s academic program. The U.S. maritime industry is a key facet of our Nation’s economic and national security. The industry and the U.S. Merchant Mariners remain key supporters of the Sea Year program, and are critical to our success. Sea Year provides a unique opportunity for the young men and women of the USMMA to serve and train with them, and we are taking action to improve the midshipmen experience.
Ensuring that all Midshipmen are trained in a safe and supportive environment is our top priority. The Academy, with senior leadership from DOT and MARAD, will continue to communicate with USMMA faculty and staff, our Midshipmen and other stakeholders as we move ahead, and will post updates on this page.
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The safety and security of the women and men at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) is a top priority for the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the USMMA. In June, Secretary Foxx directed the removal of Midshipmen assigned to a variety of U.S. - flag vessels in response to reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault, hazing, bullying, coercion, and retaliation involving Midshipmen during their time at sea. In July, Midshipmen returned to federal vessels operated by U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, which have appropriate procedures and training in place to provide a suitable learning atmosphere. All of the Midshipmen affected by the stand down from use of commercial vessels went to sea on Federal vessels and served internships in shipyards and the maritime industry. Midshipmen continue training on federal vessels while the Academy works toward reincorporating U.S. flagged commercial vessels into the Sea Year curriculum.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the Academy’s accrediting organization, while finding that the Academy’s academic foundation is sound, and in many ways exemplary, has issued a warning with recommendations regarding two broad areas separate from academics: combating sexual harassment and assault, particularly during Sea Year; and the governance structure of the USMMA. The Academy immediately began to take action on the recommendations provided by MSCHE to meet standards in the five areas that were considered deficient. Most notably, the Academy reviewed its program for sexual assault awareness and prevention, including Midshipmen training as well as the creation of reporting and response procedures that include confidential reporting, trained volunteer victim advocates who can serve as confidential reporting sources, and the use of Midshipmen survey and focus groups to better measure progress and inform program improvements. In addition, efforts are underway to address the governance structure issues identified by MSCHE, including the Academy’s financial restrictions and governance, and within our existing authorities, DOT and MARAD are working with the Academy to strengthen and continuously improve the Academy financial management processes. The Academy remains accredited during this process and we are confident that the requirements will be met.