As the sun began to peak out over Lusk Reservoir, droves of cadets, along with staff and faculty, made their way up the hill to Michie Stadium. This Wednesday morning looks a lot different from the usual work and class schedule because it was a day where everything stopped. The entire West Point community took the time to reflect on what it means to live honorably.
Honorable Living Day began on Sept. 23 kicking off Honorable Living Week. This event marked the fourth event hosted by the U.S. Military Academy under the supervision of Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams.
The last event was held in January, focusing on how to live honorably in our daily lives at the academy. This time the discussion centered on eradicating racism with inclusive leadership.
“What I ask of you today is to reflect and think about dignity and respect,” Williams said. “We educate, train and inspire. Hopefully, you are inspired today, and you are inspired to a call to action. Focus on listening to understand and not to respond.”
The day began with a cadet panel during the morning program at Michie Stadium, where cadets shared personal stories about their experiences related to racism and prejudice.
“I think giving the opportunity to take in personal stories really drove home the importance of fighting against racism and prejudice,” said Class of 2021 Cadet Jonathan-Scott Davidson, Brigade Respect Captain. “The cadet panel came from the Corps speaking to the Corps. I think we really owe a lot to the panelists, and I cannot thank them enough for volunteering; they truly elevated the day to a higher level.”
The planning for Honorable Living Day was heavily led by cadets to include the Respect Captain and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team, led by Class of 2021 Cadet Lawrence Shepherd. Ideas were generated from a survey given to returning cadets when they arrived at West Point during Cadet Leadership Development during the summer.
“The decision to host a cadet panel was unanimously one of the cadet contributor’s most favorite and cherished decision for the entire day,” said Class of 2022 Cadet Avero Howard, president of the Cultural Affairs Seminar. “We took up the challenge and formed a panel to openly discuss how some of these issues weren’t far from home, and even at our great institution, some cadets had experienced racism and prejudice.”
The morning program was followed by faculty development time among the staff in various areas across West Point. Staff and faculty could either discuss the cadet panel or choose one of two videos and host a discussion.
“The overall purpose of these days, in general, is to improve and sustain a healthy culture of character growth here at West Point,” said Jeffrey Peterson, director of the Superintendent’s Character Integration Advisory Group. “We know that our graduates will lead diverse formations in the future, so they must be ready to build and lead cohesive teams with their Soldiers.”
Cadets went back to their rooms to participate in a virtual workshop led by Steve L. Robbins, who has a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience. The workshop, titled “Your Brain is Inclusive Until it Isn’t,” focused on a science-based look at creating inclusive workplaces.
Class of 2022 Cadet Andre Pincot felt the workshop was very enlightening, especially considering his future role as an Army leader.
“It was pretty interesting because it was a more pragmatic approach to the problem of diversity in that when you exclude people for any reason, it actually decreases their performance, which for us as an Army is extraordinarily important,” Pincot said.
The Corps of Cadets also held a cultural lunch with tents set up on the apron in Central Area to highlight the diversity of cultures throughout the academy. As cadets explored the tents, they were also able to taste foods from around the world and ask their peers questions about their culture. They could also acquire a stamp on their cadet passports, granting them a free pass out of morning inspection.
“The cultural lunch was set up specifically for cadets to have space where they could be themselves and share their stories,” Class of 2022 Cadet Kersten Douglas, member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team, said. “The idea was formulated to create a space for international cadets and other ethnic and cultural clubs represented at West Point. The clubs themselves had their talking points to carry on the conversation from the morning.”
Phase two of Honorable Living Week began with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Seminar hosted by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity. In the past, the conference was a two-day event, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was decided to be a virtual seminar internal to West Point only.
“Planning this event during COVID was interesting and a little different than the norm,” Terry Allbritton, West Point’s chief diversity officer, said. “Collaboration with G6 and PAO was critical because all the workshops were done virtually in three different locations. The concept brief and IPRs allowed for coordination across the enterprise and that made the event a success.”
The theme for this year’s seminar was “We Stand Together,” focusing on dignity and respect, cultivating an inclusive environment and building cohesive teams.
During the seminar, Robbins facilitated virtual workshops for cadets, staff and faculty to offer insight into the subtle, hidden aspects of racism and cognitive bias.
“We chose Dr. Robbins as the guest speaker this year because he is an expert in socio-psychology and cognitive neuroscience,” Albritton said. “His focus is on understanding human behaviors and leveraging human differences. The strength of any team is in its ability to leverage diversity across the spectrum equitably and inclusively.”
Honorable Living Week serves as one of many steps West Point has taken toward improving diversity, equity and inclusion across the academy to build cohesive teams.
“Maximizing the talent and experience of every person on the team and treating them with dignity and respect, it enhances readiness and makes us a more combat-ready Army that can win on today’s and future battlefields,” Albritton said. “This allows us to create and sustain an inclusive organization that attracts our nation’s best talent, both for the Corps of Cadets and our faculty and staff.”