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Coast Guard academy is working hard to diversify

Chris Soto’s recent op-ed regarding the racial diversity of Coast Guard Academy cadets highlights an important issue for the academy and the Coast Guard (“U.S. Coast Guard Academy blindingly white,” June 10). The very fact that I am the superintendent — a first generation college graduate and a Hispanic-American, the first, I believe, to lead any of the nation’s service academies, or that my predecessor was the first woman to lead any service academy — is a visible example of progress made.

The fact is the Coast Guard Academy is more diverse today than it has ever been. Of the roughly 295 young Americans from 47 states and three U.S. territories who will arrive June 26 to join our freshman class, 35 percent are underrepresented minorities, including eight percent African-American, and 34 percent are women. 

Over the years we have engaged in serious sustained efforts to increase diversity in our student body. Many initiatives are specifically designed to increase awareness in historically underserved communities of the amazing educational and career benefits of attending the Coast Guard Academy. One example is the Genesis Invitational — a series of events that bring young minority and first generation college applicants to the academy to see what we have to offer. Another is the Academy Minority Outreach Team, of which Mr. Soto is a member, consisting of officers of color nationwide who engage applicants to answer questions and discuss choices, and I am deeply thankful for their personal commitment.

A single class year does not capture the full scope of either the academy’s efforts or successes in attracting a highly qualified, diverse student body. The average number of African-Americans in the freshman cohort during the last four years was 28.

In addition to bringing more students of color to the Academy, we are working to ensure all our students successfully earn their degree and commission. We have closed the graduation gap between minority and majority students by 13 percent since 2004 through a variety of programs. In fact the Coast Guard Academy’s four-year graduation rate of 72 percent for minority students last year exceeds the average U.S. six-year graduation rate for all students and is well above the roughly 50 percent national graduation rate for minority students.

This year we began using the Equity Scorecard to systematically identify areas of institutional bias to support change and improve equity and inclusion. This long-term, comprehensive project is well known in higher education, and I believe we are unique among the service academies in our use of it. Another example of our efforts is the formation of a cadet Diversity Peer Educator group consisting of students who work to create an inclusive climate and encourage their peers to discuss issues of race, gender, gender identity, and equality. The program is popular with students, and I am proud of our cadet peer educators.

The academy does not exist in a vacuum. As an institution that brings together young people from across the country, we teach them to put service before self and live by the Coast Guard core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty. We will continue to strive for a student body that is as richly diverse as America itself, address barriers to an inclusive environment, and seek to learn from each other so we may best serve the American public.

Rear Adm. James E. Rendón, New London, Conn.

The writer is superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

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