WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Business and curricular activities on post were shut down Monday as more than 4,400 cadets and military and civilian personnel started their day by listening to a panel of speakers who shared multiple perspectives of the issues surrounding sexual assault and harassment.
Honorable Living Stand-Down Day was a massive, full-day operational pause that served to enhance the serious messages presented to cadets. It allowed them to focus on intervention, prevention and elimination strategies for these nationwide concerns.
Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams addressed the cadets and staff at Trophy Point, an outdoor location rich in military history that overlooks the Hudson River.
"As we settle into another great academic year, we refocus on the issue of preventing sexual assault and harassment. And in a greater sense, we cultivate a culture of character growth," Williams said. "We are calling this day Honorable Living Stand-Down because sexual assault and harassment are symptoms of a people problem that prevents us from living honorably and demonstrating excellence."
Nearly 300 cadets reported unwanted sexual contact/harassment within the last year at West Point, which shows that some people are not adhering to the seven Army core values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Cadets are expected to apply these values toward their everyday personal and professional conduct, and the U.S. Military Academy provides a foundation to develop them.
"Just as we very brave people stood here in mutual support against tyranny more than two centuries ago, we have an opportunity today to stand in unity and mutual support of each other to eliminate sexual assault and harassment," Williams said.
Honorable Living Stand-Down Day prompts the introspection cadets need to redefine what it means to attend West Point, grow as leaders, and encourage healthy and positive work environments in the future.
Class of 2023 Cadet Patrick Elter shared his reflection of the series of speeches given by leaders and peers, to include a testimony by a rape survivor. Her brave and powerful story helped cadets, to include Elter, reach a deeper understanding of the affects of sexual assault and harassment based on its emotional impact.
"I thought it was really well done in terms of the female perspective. Multiple people spoke, which allowed multiple perspectives," Elter said. "They had a victim and a bystander, so basically it gives a lot of different people more perspectives to relate to so they can put themselves in their shoes and see what they, or we can change."
After the hourlong ceremony at Trophy Point, the day progressed into group discussions once the cadets watched TED Talks and participated in several presentations that took place in Robinson Auditorium and classrooms throughout Thayer Hall.
Honorable Living Stand-Down Day gave cadets the tools to help them be productive leaders who are able to cease the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment issues. This required great effort and support from West Point personnel.
More than 350 staff, faculty and coaches served as facilitators of group discussions among the cadets. They asked questions that probed deeper insight into sexual assault and harassment awareness in order to hit the objectives of the day.
Dr. Colleen Eils, associate director of the West Point Writing Program, shared that she felt cadets were more proactive rather than reactive compared to the last stand-down event.
"There is an individual element of cultural change that needs to happen. Cultural change will not happen unless individuals own it and make it their priority," Eils said. "For a cadet to understand that is to unlock a lot of leadership potential, and that is why I was encouraged by our conversation today. I think they are increasingly getting that this is not a problem for the future or the corps at large, but it is a problem for each one of them individually."
On a micro level, change begins within the individual, but the ultimate goal is for change to occur throughout the military. Cadets are required to make an effort to apply what they learned at West Point toward their future Army careers, and the point of Honorable Living Stand-Down Day is to facilitate this process.
TED Talks were specifically presented due to their ability to mature a cadet's perspective of sexual assault and harassment while inspiring them to resolve these issues as more capable and serious leaders.
Featured TED Talks the cadets attended include Alexis Jones's "Redefining Manhood-One Locker Room Talk at a Time," and Jackson Katz's "Violence Against Women-It's a Men's Issue."
Cadets learned about bystander intervention, practicing consent, identifying predators and having the courage to do what is right. Other conversations included redefining what a healthy role model looks like once they took a critical perspective toward toxic masculinity that is prevalent in mainstream society.
They also discussed the many differences they experience in comparison to their peers where backgrounds, cultures and upbringing are concerned. This led to a more wholesome understanding of what behavior constitutes as sexual assault and harassment.
Cadets can rely on their moral compass or rather, a universal guide for ethical behavior that is found by conditioning themselves to live up to the Army core values in order to avoid these issues within their ranks.
"I think dignity and respect are human values that build strong teams and relationships between people, so when we become officers within the future, some of us will hold those values close to our hearts," Class of 2021 Cadet Maxwell Myers said. "These are the foundations for which teams can build trust, and trust builds successful teams that are able to operate fluidly. If you have a community built on dignity and respect, people will be more prone to come to you with problems in an institution and will be able to call out these issues."
Honorable Living Stand-Down Day is an event that not only serves to improve the culture at West Point, but also creates a community of trust, honor and respect toward future work environments.