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Task force cites 'flawed data' in USMMA harassment survey

Dec 9, 2016 12:06 PM

Midshipmen are not worried about their personal safety during Sea Year, a report states

The following is the text of a news release from U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation:

(GREAT NECK, N.Y.) — The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation's Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force on Thursday released an interim report that summarizes findings from an ongoing study, conducted by Self Solutions, investigating culture on campus and at sea.

The study, which utilizes a combination of individual and group interviews with current midshipmen and recent graduates, as well as anonymous surveys is intended to help the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) leadership assess the nature of sexual assault and harassment at the academy and develop common-sense, research-backed solutions.

The report also scrutinizes USMMA's Service Academy Gender Relations (SAGR) survey data, a report — made public Thanksgiving week — 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.

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

The task force's interim report includes five salient findings:

• 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 areas:

• 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.

"In sharing common-sense recommendations with the Kings Point community, we hope to protect the livelihood of the next generation of female mariners," said task force member Andrea Morrison, a 2010 USMMA alumna who currently sails on an American flagged tank vessel. "Sea Year has always empowered young women to join the U.S. maritime fleet and provided them the training and credentials to enter into meaningful, impactful careers."

The interim report can be viewed here.

About the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation

The U.S. Merchant Marine Alumni Association and Foundation exists to serve, assist and perpetuate the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., its regiment of midshipmen, faculty, staff and alumni. It supports the academy's mission of educating and graduating Merchant Marine officers who will become leaders in the commercial and defense transportation services of the United States. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is a world-leader in maritime education and one of the five federal academies.

About the Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force

The task force was created by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association and Foundation to conduct a comprehensive study on sexual assault and harassment both on campus and at sea.

For more information, visit

About Self Solutions

Self Solutions is a service-disabled veteran-owned small business software and consulting company that blends analytics and trainings to help leaders lead, managers manage, and employees develop. Using their unique approach rooted in qualitative analytics, Self Solutions has examined at-sea behavior on thousands of US Fleet Forces Command ships, in addition to developing SHIELD, a proprietary sexual assault prevention tool to help college and university officials identify and eliminate causal factors, and in turn predict and prevent sexual misconduct on campus.

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