Fewer than 15% of congressional nominations to military academies are Black or Hispanic students, new report shows

Jessika Harkay

Hartford Courant

Mar 17, 2021

Fewer than 15% of students nominated by members of Congress for national military academies since the mid-1990s have been Black and Hispanic, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center.

The report, Gatekeepers to Opportunity: Racial Disparities in Congressional Nominations to the Military Service Academies, analyzed nearly 25 years of nominations to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Competition is fierce for slots in the academies, and a nomination is required for a student to be considered for admission.

In its findings, the CVLC reported that the only proportionally represented demographic in terms of service academy nominations was Asian students, who received 7% of nominations compared to their 6% share of the young adult population between 18 and 24.

“Black students ... received only 6% of nominations despite comprising 15% of the population of young adults aged 18 to 24,” the report read. “Hispanic students have received only 8% of nominations, despite comprising 22%.”

Of the 371 members of Congress in office, more than 200 granted less than 5% of nominations to Black students and 49 members have not nominated a single Black student. Likewise, 182 members granted less than 5% of their nominations to Hispanic students and 31 haven’t nominated a single Hispanic student. In 25 years, neither demographic accounted for more than 13% of total nominees.

In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Murphy led the state’s congressional delegation with 16% of his nominations being students of color, followed by Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-3rd District, at 15%; Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, at 13%; and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, at 9%. Rep. Jahana Hayes, who was first elected to represent the 5th Congressional District in 2018, was not included in the study.

“The congressional nomination system is leaving Black and Latinx students behind,” said Liam Brennan, CVLC’s executive director. “Because many general officers graduate from the service academies, the congressional nominations bottleneck ultimately impacts diversity at the highest levels of military leadership.”

The three academies including in the study commission “nearly 20% of the officer corps” in the U.S. military, the report said.

Of the 18% Hispanic and 14% Black active-duty population, only 8% from each group are officers, which can contribute to racism and lack of leadership from individuals with similar backgrounds, the report added.

“Inequities in nominations lead to inequities at the service academies themselves,” Richard Brookshire, co-founder and chief strategist of the Black Veterans Project, said. “Beyond the academy walls, these disparities are compounded: Black soldiers and sailors are overrepresented in the enlisted ranks and underrepresented among general officers, and over one-half of service members of color have witnessed evidence of white supremacy or racist ideologies in the military.”

The report made note of historic racial discrimination in the academies, including how the first Black cadet enrolled in 1870, but one did not graduate until 1949. It also included that U.S. Military Academy’s September 2020 graduates called for anti-racist reform by recounting discrimination.

“We say that we want more Black Cadets and Officers, but we refuse to acknowledge the racial tax that they must pay just to survive,” Simone Askew, the first Black woman to serve in the prestigious role of first captain of the Corps of Cadets, said in the reform letter. “We place a few Black people into leadership positions, but we will not acknowledge that the dehumanizing backlash they receive is racism. We publicly parade the ‘firsts’ of our institution but use them as a façade to avoid committing in word or action to antiracism.”

[Breaking News] Connecticut forecast: Winter gives us slushy parting shot early Friday, warmer weather on the way » The report called for action, urging the Department of Defense, Congress and individuals to amend the race disparities in military academies.

It follows after the first Gatekeeper report on gender nominations which helped enact the PANORAMA ACT, that requires “the Department of Defense to release annual data about race, ethnicity, and gender in service academy admissions, making it easier to identify disparities,” the report’s release said.

Jessika Harkay can be reached at jharkay@courant.com.

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