WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Military Academy will have its most diverse freshmen class in its 218-year history this fall, as it continues other efforts to be more inclusive, its superintendent said last week.
West Point’s administration understands the responsibility that comes with an increasingly diverse student body in assuring equal and fair treatment of its cadets, regardless of race or ethnic background, said Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams.
“Racism has no place at the United States Military Academy,” Williams said Sept. 2 during an Association of the U.S. Army virtual discussion on race. “We are committed to eradicating racism within our ranks. Ultimately, it's a readiness issue, because racism breaks down trust and cohesion necessary for cohesive winning teams.”
More than 1,200 cadet candidates arrived on campus in July and of those candidates, 493 identified as minorities including 214 African Americans and 141 Hispanic Americans.
Williams said West Point has held conversations on race throughout the summer in conjunction with the Army’s Project Inclusion program.
“The academy expects all cadets to be treated with dignity and respect,” Williams said. “We take seriously all forms of racial inequality that marginalize or devalue members of our team.”
This month, the academy will host the next in its Honorable Living Stand-Down Day series, where the school cancels classes so cadets and faculty can take part in discussions to change culture and combat social issues that include sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism. West Point has continued programs that add to that effort, including its annual diversity and inclusion leadership conference.
Push for inclusion
The efforts to include more cadets of color extends beyond the West Point campus to the U.S. Army Cadet Command and colleges that host ROTC programs.
While the Army has grown increasingly diverse, the service has lagged in bringing more minorities into its combat arms officer corps, said Maj. Gen. John Evans, commander of USACC. Evans added that the Army hopes to eventually increase the diversity of its senior leaders who are typically selected from officers in the infantry, armor and aviation career fields.
“In order to build a [senior leader] bench now we've got to make some efforts now to try to get after combat arms as a branch,” Evans said, adding that diversity will have an impact in 25 to 30 years when those senior leaders will be selected from new classes of officers today.
Cadet Command has implemented a program at historically black colleges and universities, where a company grade officer in combat arms shares his experience with ROTC students and entices their interest in combat career fields. Evans said he has extended that program to colleges that have a predominately Hispanic population.
“The Hispanic demographic in our country is skyrocketing,” he said. “So if we don't work now to get more officers from the Hispanic demographic into our Army and into the key positions, we're not going to have a force that reflects the diversity we wanted the senior officer level to be down the road.”
Evans said the Assignment Interactive Module, or AIM 2.0, has helped increase diversity among its assistant professors of military science within the Cadet Command. AIM 2.0 is a web-based officer assignment management tool that connects officers and warrant officers with the Officer Personnel Management Directorate at U.S. Army Human Resource Command.
Setting an example
For Williams, West Point’s first Black superintendent, the effort to eradicate racism from the nation’s oldest military academic institution takes increased importance. Since taking over as superintendent in 2018, Williams dedicated himself to helping the Army build diverse units that reflect the full range of the country’s ethnicities and cultures.
He added that diversity strengthens a unit whose members help build a worldly, knowledgeable force capable of providing holistic solutions to complex problems. The Class of 2024 has the highest number of African Americans since the school’s inception in 1802 and one of its largest numbers of Hispanic Americans.
“That diverse mix is how our Army wins on the battlefield,” said Williams, a 1983 West Point graduate.
Williams understands the example he sets as an African-American leader in his position. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, he said his parents raised him in a diverse environment. Williams’ father served two tours in Vietnam and each of Williams’ children serve in the armed forces.
Williams said he sets an example for cadets from diverse backgrounds.
“It's good for the young men and women of all colors, of all genders to look up and see themselves as a superintendent,” he said. “So I'm very proud of the fact that I'm the first African American. I’m proud to be superintendent for all the great young men and women here.”