As the only Black woman in the class of 1980, Janie Mines felt isolated.
Sometimes, it was as if no one cared.
But 44 years later, she began having conversations with members of her class — the class of 1980 — sparked by a string of racist incidents, including a former classmate livestreaming racist statements. Those conversations led to writing a petition, calling on the Naval Academy and its alumni association to be more inclusive.
“With tears in my eyes as I write this, 44 years after this journey began, I truly feel like a member of the mighty Class of 1980,” she wrote.
Mines was the first Black female midshipman at the academy and among the first class of women to enter the institution, along with Sharon Disher, who co-authored the petition with her.
Now Mines and Disher are calling on alumni and the institution itself to have those difficult conversations and talk about racism in such a way that they are inclusive.
“Hearing every aspect, trying to understand one another’s perspectives and having those difficult conversations,” Mines said.
The two wrote a petition, she said, that lays out ways for the Naval Academy Alumni Association and Naval Academy to have more inclusive discussions. The petition has garnered 662 signatures, as of 4:15 p.m. Thursday, with the goal of reaching 1,000.
The Naval Academy and alumni association have recently started to take a closer look at systemic racism.
An alumnus was removed from his position with the association and had his membership revoked after he livestreamed racist comments. That led to the alumni association creating a special committee to review its programs and policies. Mines is a member of the committee.
The Naval Academy announced an investigation into Midshipman 1st Class Chase Standage after a Twitter account linked to him made racist statements. An incoming midshipman from Montgomery County had his offer rescinded after racist messages he made in 2018 surfaced.
The petition starts by condemning any comments that demean people.
“Clearly racist, misogynistic statements are not unique to any one individual. It is important that we better understand where these ideas come from--what experiences, emotions, and circumstances resulted in this expression. To do this, we must have frank, meaningful, and open conversations with diverse voices. Until we do this, we cannot be a mission effective team,” according to the petition.
The women then go on to list concerns, recommendations and requests, some which have already been addressed, they said.
One of these requests was having a Black alumnus on the special committee, which was filled by Mines.
But the women pointed out that the alumni association has been inconsistent with its responses to racism.
“There have been other alumni, including some distinguished members, whose words and actions deserved the same scrutiny and consequences,” according to the petition.
The petition calls for mentorship of minority alumni so that they can become leaders as well as be a resource for midshipmen.
Others call for action at the academy, such as releasing application and candidate demographics to alumni. Candidate diversity is also being addressed at the Congressional level, with Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, calling for members of Congress to collect and release demographics on candidates they nominate to service academies.
The petition also calls for town halls. At the essence of the petition is the need for more conversations, Disher said. She’s holding her own event this week, which encourages people to meet and start talking. Or, if they’d rather not go out, pick up the phone and call a former classmate.
“And one thing that’s really critical, it’s not just about talking,” Mines said. “It’s about listening to one another and then coming up with a plan.”
Disher sent the petition to Naval Academy leadership. She received positive responses from both the superintendent and commandant of midshipmen, she said.
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The Naval Academy did not return a request for comment.
Already the Naval Academy alumni noticed that the petition created a conversation between the class of 1979 and 1980. People from different classes are leaving comments of support, with some sharing their experiences at the academy.
“I feel like people are listening now,” Disher said.
Disher said there is concern among some that they cannot speak right now, but that will not move the conversation forward. Instead, Mines and Disher want those people to be part of the conversations, even if they are difficult, or as the petition states, “impolite.”
By teaching people to have these conversations and create actionable plans from them will help sustain the conversation, Mines said.
“If we can put in place not only the inclusivity but helping one another to learn to communicate effectively so that our perspective will be heard and not be lost in the tones or the words that we use to communicate it, that will add sustainability,” she said.
The petition can be found at www.ipetitions.com/petition/moving-forward.