Sue Fulton was a member of the first class of women to graduate from West Point and was appointed to its Board of Visitors by President Obama. This week Fulton issued a scathing open letter to the Academy’s leadership for its mediocre handling of an infamous sex scandal involving the rugby team.
In 1980, Brenda Sue Fulton became a member of the first class of women graduating from the United States Military Academy (USMA) in West Point, New York. Fulton, now a former Army Captain, is a founder of Knights Out, the West Point LGBT affinity group, and OutServe (now OutServe-SLDN), a newly established organization for active duty LGBT service members. This week, Fulton carried out a highly moral action, issuing an open, scathing letter to West Point’s leadership, leveraging her political power as an Obama appointee to West Point’s Board of Visitors (akin to a university’s Board of Trustees), condeming their abysmal handling of a recent and infamous sex scandal involving members of the USMA rugby team.
This scandal involved photographs of fellow team mates, including women members and a massive number of emails that contained salacious and inappropriate comments about other cadets, according to Stars and Stripes, in a story published on June 3rd.
Fulton’s letter speaks loudly for itself. It was first published on June 19 by Charles Clymer, a former Army soldier and West Point cadet and an active blogger.
An Open Letter to the Leadership of the United States Military Academy at West Point:
It was hard to attend graduation this year. I knew that almost a dozen rugby players would be walking across the stage – rugby players who had participated in pornographic, misogynistic, sometimes racist weekly emails, targeting their own fellow cadets. Emails that included language like “the only thing <woman cadet’s name> can call out is her own name as she f–ks <her boyfriend> in the a– with an 8″ black strap-on” and “<woman cadet’s name> needs to be raped by like twenty big black dudes.” Emails that included photos taken of women cadets without their knowledge, captioned with sexually suggestive and/or violent comments.You could tell when the rugby players accepted their diplomas, because their sleeves were bare of rank – part of that “maximum punishment” West Point claimed they received: loss of cadet rank, 120 hours on the area (60 suspended), and 8 hours of “intensive Respect training.” I suppose I should be grateful that the underclass rugby players will be given the full six months of Respect mentorship, though they received fewer hours on the area. “Maximum” indeed.
So I watched these new 2nd Lieutenants, walking across the same stage as one of the women they tormented. I was assured that they had a rough week. Well, so did that woman, who spent the last few months before her graduation being relentlessly harassed for turning over one of the emails to West Point leadership. I wondered what it would be like to be a woman soldier in a platoon led by one of those creeps.
I understand the punishment was solely the decision of the new Commandant, an officer who has managed to serve for 29 years and yet commanded women for a grand total of maybe ten months.
He’s not the first general to be placed in a command for which he wasn’t qualified, but one would hope he would have gotten better advice. Instead – fully backed by the Superintendent – he was impressed by the fact that the men stood together, taking their punishment as a team, and decided that they would make fine officers, thank you very much.
That idea of “standing together as a team” is less impressive when you realize that it’s about a group of men standing together over their rejection of women as part of their team, as classmates, as equals. That was the message sent to the Corps, as replayed to me by a couple of male cadets: what matters is that the men closed ranks – and they “got over.”
I also heard how “remorseful” the boys were. Yes, so “remorseful” that, after graduation, one of them sent a photo of his friend “flipping the bird” to the woman who turned over the email.
A year ago, I attended a Sexual Assault Prevention workshop for the second class, in Thayer Hall’s South Auditorium. Prompted to come up with a typical “pick-up line,” one of the cows stood up and made a rape joke. The “trainers” joined the rest of the class in laughing, and made no comment about the appropriateness of his comment.
This fall, cadets will come back from summer training to a West Point leadership leaflet on their desks that tells them, “You are joining a brotherhood.” A brotherhood. Seriously??
I am deeply troubled. I have seen no evidence that West Point’s senior leadership has a clue about the current command climate and its utter contempt for women. Meanwhile, I have seen plenty of evidence that women cadets and officers remain second-class citizens at the Academy.
I love the Army, and I love West Point. I believe in the values that are supposed to define the Academy, and I know dozens of officers at West Point who share those values, and hundreds of graduates - male and female – who have upheld those values, on the battlefield and beyond. And because I love West Point, because I live these values, I am speaking out. Our cadets and officers deserve better leadership.
Please give me some reassurance that the motto of West Point is still “Duty, Honor, Country,” and not – as it appears to be – “Bros before Hos.”
Brenda Sue Fulton
West Point Class of 1980
Member, US Military Academy Board of Visitors
All the military services are on notice from Congress to the White House–that the women and men of the miltiary services, are to be treated with respect and dignity, not to be shamefully tossed aside like last night’s garbage left overs. These cadets, who eventually will serve as commissioned officers, are expected to conduct themselves with honor and fidelity.
If they cannot pass these critical tests while at West Point, they certainly don’t belong in the military. Without question, they have violated the sacred “honor code” and all that entails for every member of the Corps of Cadets.
It is shameful these young men got a pass from the higher ups. Heads should roll and people should be sacked. The seriousness of this misconduct is not to be minimized. Indeed, it is deleterious to good order and discipline and begins with the commandant. Let’s hope that Fulton’s letter not only gets a serious review by members of Congress, but also by the commander-in chief who wisely chose to appoint Fulton in the first place.
Update: Since Sue Fulton released her open letter about the failures of the West Point leadership to address gross misconduct by 15 male cadets, who had been members of the Rugby team, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, also a member of the Academy’s Board of Visitors, has taken West Point’s Superintendant Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon, Jr. to task and questioned his judgement in failure to preventing most of these cadets from becoming commissioned officers. The New Civil Rights Movement will bring original reporting to this developing story in the coming days.
Image of Sue Fulton provided by Charles Clymer. Hat tip to Charles Clymer for his reporting on transcript of the West Point Board of Visitor’s meeting.
Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.
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