The Day – Report: Cultural Competence “At Your Fingertips” at the Coast Guard Academy
New London – Leaders at the Coast Guard Academy see the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion as essential, according to a new study, but its authors have 18 short- and medium-term recommendations to boost proficiency of “cultural competence”.
A National Academy of Public Administration panel on Tuesday released a 117-page report assessing cultural competence – “the behaviors, attitudes and policies that enable a system, agency or professionals to work effectively in situations intercultural” – at the academy.
“The CGA and its team of senior leaders have unique characteristics that suggest that significant progress can and will be made in this area,” the report said. “Building a competent environment where cultural competence is seen as a primary goal by Academy leaders is a vision within reach.”
The impetus for the year-long study was the Coast Guard Academy Improvement Act, which was part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 and called NAPA to assess the state of cultural competence of cadets, faculty and staff. The study team interviewed over 290 people, both individually and in groups, with all interviews being voluntary and not for attribution purposes. He held virtual meetings and visited the academy for a week last year.
The report states that while the academy has many initiatives that advance cultural competence, “gathering efforts seem reactive and sometimes unprioritized when other ‘pressing’ issues arise and distract leaders. In these respects, cultural competence is sometimes seen by some faculty, staff and cadets as a secondary issue rather than a central issue.”
The panel’s highest-priority recommendations are publishing a long-term diversity and inclusion action plan, expanding the responsibilities of the chief diversity officer, improving governance and oversight of initiatives and tracking actions to observe progress and guide change.
Academy superintendent Rear Admiral William Kelly said the diversity and inclusion action plan was drafted and then approved by Coast Guard headquarters, but NAPA asked the academy to suspend publication, as the Cultural Competency report would provide more clarity.
“As our nation becomes more and more diverse, our responsibility is to make sure that we recruit the diversity of our country,” said Kelly, who sat down for an interview Tuesday just before heading to a meeting with diversity director Aram deKoven. “It’s up to leadership up and down the chain to make sure people are included and can be themselves.”
Kelly said the tangible and measurable result of DEI’s efforts is retention. He noted that the class of 2025, the most diverse class in the history of the academy, had lost only eight students so far, while when Kelly graduated, his class was 50% d attrition – what he called a “gross misuse of taxpayers’ money”. “
Whether it’s having the football team wear special uniforms to honor the first lifeguard station with an all-black crew, or dedicating its strength and conditioning center to the Coast Guard veteran and NFL player. Emlen Tunnell, Kelly said the academy is trying to tell the Coast Guard’s story and show its diversity in a new and unique way, not just through PowerPoint presentations.
“To continue to be successful, you have to see that people like you can be successful,” said academy spokesperson Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora said, speaking of her experience earlier in her career when there were far fewer women in the Coast Guard. The class of 2025 is made up of 40% women.
The report discusses the academy’s anti-harassment policy and hate incidents. While interviewees described the 2020 policy updates as beneficial, several criticized the implementation “as being too burdensome, as it can stifle a victim’s desire to seek advice or counsel… for fear of triggering an official investigation”. The report notes that there is “a lack of a confidential and informal process for the adjudication or mediation of incidents of harassment”.
“I know it frustrates people, but these policies and procedures are there to support members,” Kelly said, and to “ensure that if an incident comes to our attention, we adjudicate it fully and fairly.” But he said the academy will continue to ensure its policy is correct.
The report states that respondents indicated that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are taken seriously and resources are provided promptly, but that “follow-up to these incidents during the investigation or adjudication phase of the process is often inconsistent and non-transparent”.
The Sexual Assault Prevention, Response and Recovery Office has two staff members – a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and a Victim Advocate – but the report says management requirements of an efficient office require more staff.
The report states that respondents “mentioned feeling less likely to engage with the SAPRR office due to its separate location and the potential to be rumored,” but Kelly said the office has since been moved.
Another recommendation from the report is to announce a decision on how to approach two murals in the Henriques Room, so that the room can be reopened. The academy closed the hall in 2019 to decide what to do with the paintings.
The room, which is in Hamilton Hall and was the academy’s original library, has a wraparound mural with a panel that shows two black men working on the construction of the Cutter Massachusetts in 1791 and a panel that depicts an attack against the Seminole Indians.
The report notes that there is no explanation providing historical context and that people may be offended by these two murals.
“The murals are a painful reminder of American heritage that includes injustice and racism,” he says, “but American society has experienced a positive metamorphosis that can be celebrated and also needs to be permanently addressed. for sensitive issues that are a thing of the past.”
Kelly said the academy needed to bring in a professional outside curator and was reaching out to people at the nearby Lyman Allyn Art Museum to be pointed in the right direction.
Other recommendations in the report include creating a new civilian student affairs position within the cadet division and launching a cultural competency and diversity initiative in athletics. The report also recommends that central government provide permanent funding for temporary housing and other short-term faculty positions, and conduct a review of the hiring process for civilian faculty.
The report praises the incorporation of cultural competence into the academy’s core curriculum, with courses such as American Social Movements and Introduction to Latin American Culture.
The panel acknowledges that implementing its recommendations “will require additional resources, including limited leadership time. But these difficult trade-offs are critical to success.”
Kelly said the academy needs to continue to work with resource managers at Coast Guard headquarters to figure out where resources should come from and when to ask.
“We have a lot of good things happening here,” he said. “We have to make them a little more focused, a little more directed, a little more coordinated.”