Superintendent on survey results: We must strengthen our culture

By Brandon O’Connor Assistant Editor

February 21st, 2019 | In Focus, News
 Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, here talking to the West Point community during a Superintendent’s Town Hall in August, testified about sexual assault and harassment and gender discrimination in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel Feb. 13.

Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, testified about sexual assault and harassment and gender discrimination in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel Feb. 13 in Washington D.C.
Williams appeared before the committee along with Vice Adm. Walter E. Carter Jr., superintendent of the Naval Academy, and Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, to discuss the results of the recent bi-annual Service Academy Gender Relations survey that showed an increase in unwanted sexual contact and sexual harassment among cadets.
“These results are unacceptable and sexual assault and harassment have no place at West Point or in our Army,” Williams said. “The entire West Point community remains committed to ensuring a safe and secure environment, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
The survey, conducted in March 2018, covered instances of sexual assault and harassment and gender discrimination occurring at the academies in the 2017-18 academic year. The SAGR survey estimated 273 instances of unwanted sexual contact occurred at West Point in 2017-18, up from an estimated 129 instances in 2015-16, the last time the survey was conducted. Of those estimated instances, 48 were reported.
In response to the survey results, Williams announced during the hearing that West Point will hold a full day stand-down to strengthen its culture on Monday. It will involve cadets, staff, faculty and coaches.
“We are doing a full West Point stand-down,” Williams said. “There will be no classes. There will be no sports. There will be nothing but me talking to cadets on Feb. 25. I plan to shut everything down.”
The stand-down will start at 6:30 a.m. with a character breakfast in the Cadet Mess Hall, where cadets will be joined by senior staff, faculty and coaches for a facilitated discussion about the culture at West Point and taking ownership of the need to rectify the sexual assault and harassment issue at West Point.
“The stand-down is not about training so much as it is about analyzing why sexual violence occurs at West Point and what each individual can do to personally be engaged in shifting the culture to create an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and feels respected,” Samantha Ross, West Point Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program manager, said.
Breakfast will be followed by a superintendent’s address where Williams will talk to the entire West Point community about the issues of sexual assault and harassment at the academy.
“Success in our prevention and education efforts must permeate throughout the West Point community,” Williams said in his testimony.  “Every individual working or living at West Point needs to recognize his or her role in contributing to culture change … As we are in the business of developing leaders of character for our Army and Nation, we must set and continue to enforce the highest of standards.”
The afternoon will include a character lunch that follows the same format as breakfast, as well as cadet and staff/faculty breakout sessions to discuss the issues and ways forward. Each breakout group will work to develop action plan recommendations of how to address the issue.
“It is my responsibility as the superintendent of West Point to take care of the sons and daughters you have given me,” Williams said during his testimony. “We have the West Point Leader Development System which is focused primarily on character. It is ingrained in all things we do whether it’s in academics, or whether it’s in sports. Character (development) is my number one line of effort at the U.S. Military Academy.”
Along with announcing the stand-down during his testimony, Williams discussed the efforts West Point is making to combat alcohol as a contributing factor to sexual assault at the academy, which will include a full review of the access to alcohol on post as well as the presence of alcohol at academy events.
“We have a long way to go in this space,” Williams said during his testimony. “I’m not satisfied with where we are. I’m having my commandant look at all of our policies.”
West Point partnered with a consulting firm, EverFi, following the release of the 2016 survey and will continue building upon that partnership in the coming years as a key part of its response to sexual assault and harassment. The EverFi program includes training for current and incoming cadets as well as the ability to collect data in the time between the biannual SAGR surveys.
“This problem is deeply rooted in a culture that treats half of the population as an object and sensationalizes sex,” Ross said. “Our work is to fully understand just what we are up against in terms of reshaping the paradigm of dignity and respect among our cadets and then creating the climate at West Point where the Army Values and our culture of character growth can be leveraged to build a safe, healthy, respectful community where all of our cadets and community members are thriving individually, and feel connected and committed to living and leading honorably and demonstrating excellence in all we do.”