I received the letter below a few minutes ago from a female midshipman who authorized me to post it. Other than a slight edit I made for clarity (shown in brackets) , it is copied exactly as received. I met this midshipmen when I visited at homecoming. She would be an asset to any ship’s crew and is a credit to the Academy. Bravo zulu to her.
I believe that it’s time that some clarification was made about how the midshipmen currently at USMMA feel about what is happening on our campus and at sea.
First of all, I, and most of the Academy, am in favor of the idea of trying to fix the culture at sea. I do not believe anybody is opposed to the idea of lessening the sexual assaults and “locker room” culture that is apparent at sea, our words are just twisted by the Administration into making it look like we are. What we are opposed to is the idea that is being created that everyone you meet in the Industry is some salty-dog that is going to assault you, and that we are trained to become this when we return to the Academy. It’s humiliating to both the Industry and ourselves.
I never faced a situation aboard my ship where I felt uncomfortable due to a crew member. I was welcomed onboard by a crew of 22 men, my male sea partner, and myself. My parents questioned my safety when I first told them I would be the only female on a ship for that period of time, but I knew I was in safe hands. Between my sea partner, my trust in the crew, as well as the trust in my ATRs back at school, I knew that if something did happen, proper procedures would be taken by all the previously mentioned.
When we would go into port, I knew that I had my sea partner and the crew that traveled with us watching over me. There was in instance in port where I was caught in an alarming situation by a local in the bar, and I felt threatened and trapped, but could not come up with the words to protect myself. Before I could even voice myself, an officer from my ship grabbed the man and brought me back to where our crew was sitting. No words were needed, he could feel that I felt uncomfortable. Not once did I ever feel that way when I was onboard. The ship is their home. As cadets, we are only guests for a period of time, but in that time, it becomes our home as well. The members of the crew referred to our ship as a family, and we protect our families whenever we can. This mentality is seen all throughout the Industry.
Sea time is made for learning. Professional relationships are to be kept, just like we are taught back on campus. My crew would bend over backwards to help my sea partner and I with projects, but only if we treated them with the same respect that they willingly gave us. Sexual assault is not tolerated aboard commercial ships. My Captain told me of a time where a cadet from a state school was assaulted a few years back while he was Captain, and he made sure that the officer who did so was removed from the vessel, fired from the company, and the [Union] Hall of his actions. He did this because it would not be tolerated on his ship, and he would not stand for it to be tolerated within his fleet.
Stories like these are when I am most confused on why our Academy cannot return to commercial shipping. Two instances where cadets were in an unsafe situation, and members of the vessels stepped in, stopped it, and ensured the safety and well-being of the cadet that was harassed. There are bad seeds, I can agree to that. But there are in every field of work, and always will be.
I understand that “there are in every field of work, and always will be” is not a good enough excuse to justify their actions. And that’s not what I’m alluding to. What I mean is that there have been problems with SASH for hundreds of years in every line of work you can get into, and stopping sea year all together is not going to make the problems going away. It’s only avoiding the problem from continuing. You don’t see businesses shutting down because one person was harassed, the company needs to continue working…and our school needs to continuing teaching. Time on ROS and RRF is not going to justly satisfy the knowledge our cadets need from their sea year. MSC is a good learning experience, as many graduates apply with MSC, but there are 100+ people aboard these vessels, and it’s hard to get the hands-on learning that you receive from a crew of 24, where your work is beneficial and needed to keep the ship intact.
By stopping sea-year, we are only hurting ourselves. When the stand-down first happened, I was not opposed to it. I figured that it would be a quick stand-down where the companies would implement a harsher SASH program aboard their vessels, have a few more meetings a quarter about SASH aboard the ship, and the cadet would be back on. But now, almost 5 months later, the stand-down has seen little progress of getting midshipmen back onto commercial vessels. It has become so long that the Industry, and midshipmen, are losing hope of EVER returning to the commercial fleet while at Kings Point. The State Schools, however, are now receiving our billets onto commercial ships, and are receiving the hands-on training that separated our Academy from every other Maritime school. Their sea-year coordinators, similar to our ATRs, do less than ours do in protecting their midshipmen while out on sea, and the cadets have no safety word while aboard these ships. If anything, I feel like the Academy is far more advanced on the safety of our time at sea over any other Maritime school.
As a midshipman directly involved in the sea year stand-down, I hope that this will be resolved soon. Class of 2018 has given up on the hope that we will return to commercial shipping during our sea time. But now it has come to that we hope it is re-implemented so that the classes behind us can see why the midshipmen love sea year so much. Finally putting all of those credits to use, getting to be part of something great. We do not attend USMMA for the times we experience on campus, it is for our sea year, and we will continue fighting for the re-implementation of sea year.