All classes were cancelled at the U.S. Military Academy Jan. 14 and work was set aside as the cadets, staff and faculty came together to talk about how to live honorably, build cohesive teams and combat issues related to sexual assault and harassment at the academy.
This marked the third Honorable Living Day hosted by the academy during the tenure of West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams.
The first was held last February and brought the West Point community together to discuss the results of the biennial Service Academy Gender Relations survey and begin formulating responses to eliminate sexual assault and harassment at the academy. USMA stood-down again last semester to build upon that discussion and call cadets, staff and faculty to action to combat issues at the academy and improve the culture in order to combat sexual assault.
Tuesday, the entire academy once again held a stand down day. This time the goal was to expand the discussion beyond sexual assault and talk about how all aspects of the community can come together and promote an atmosphere of honorable living to include diversity, inclusion and acceptance of people from differing backgrounds, races and genders.
"About a year ago, we paused and brought the entire community together-cadets, staff, faculty and coaches-to have a hard and frank conversation about the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Since then, we've made many strides to address this issue," Williams said. "We firmly planted ourselves in this space-you, me and the entire team-and have recommitted ourselves to ending sexual assault and the behaviors that undermine the dignity and respect each and every one of us deserve."
The stand down day featured guest speaker Bruce Stewart, Ph.D., the CEO of Small World Solutions and former co-chair of the White House committee on increasing diversity in the STEM workplace. Stewart first spoke to the entire Corps of Cadets before speaking with staff and faculty. He called on all members of the West Point community to be "game changers" at the academy when it comes to fostering inclusion and diversity by bringing out the best in others.
"This whole thing around sexual harassment, sexual assault, discriminating and saying racist things has got to stop," Stewart said. "When you're on the West Point team, the only way we can be successful is if all of us are successful. I'm not talking about bystanding or intervening or whatever the case may be. I'm talking about you. The question for you all is are you a plus or a minus? Do you bring out the best in others or do you bring out the worst?"
This stand down differed from the previous two as it was more cadet driven and facilitated than its predecessors. Following the talk by Stewart, cadets broke into gender segregated small groups facilitated by upper-class cadets to watch videos and talk about gender stereotypes created by media and social norms that lead to unhealthy behaviors for both men and women.
"Today, we got into the deeper meaning of how having respect for both genders is a deep-rooted cause of why sexual assault and harassment happen in the first place," Class of 2023 Cadet Tessa Bomke said. "The way the nomination (for admission) process works, we come from all corners of the country. It's really important to be able to have empathy for others so we can really understand where we're coming from and hopefully act with some more respect to each other in the future."
Cadets also had the chance to develop scenarios, some involving sexual assault/harassment situations, that will be used in future training that touch on issues discovered during their discussions.
As the cadets held discussions, staff and faculty attended a talk by Williams and Stewart and also took part in a wellness panel focused on support resources available to cadets and Soldiers and now the role mentors can play in helping cadets get assistance when needed.