12.15.16 | Kate O’Connor
THE BOTTOM LINE
- I am a proud woman who graduated from Kings Point. I know the value of my education, and I cannot believe that in December 2016, a month after we had a woman nearly win the presidency, the academy is saying we can’t handle a year at sea.
The first federal service academy to admit women is risking its legacy by watering down its renowned curriculum in the name of protecting them.
I speak of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, an institution like its counterparts at West Point and Annapolis. It trains future officers to serve in the U.S. commercial fleet or the armed forces. In 1974, under progressive leadership, it was the first academy to recognize it couldn’t keep its doors closed to half the U.S. population and still accomplish its mission. It has come a long way since that first co-ed class, and today nearly 20 percent of the student body is female.
When I accepted my congressional nomination to the academy in 2009, I knew I was entering a male-dominated environment. But I also knew the academics were rigorous, and that the crown jewel of my education would be my year at sea aboard a U.S. commercial vessel. To say Sea Year, a period in sophomore and junior years, was invaluable is an understatement.
As at many other colleges and universities, instances of sexual misconduct have been documented at the academy. Schools must address this, including my alma mater, because no students should be subjected to assault during their college experience.
Unfortunately, perhaps sensing pressure from incidents publicized by the media, the academy has suspended mission-critical training on commercial vessels — known as Sea Year — to give the impression it is taking the reports of misconduct seriously. This is a mistake — and a setback for modern feminism — as Sea Year doesn’t put midshipmen in danger or lead to sexual misconduct on campus.
Sea Year was the single most compelling aspect of attending the academy. While at sea as a cadet and licensed engineer, I sailed on two steam ships and four motor vessels that transported either containerized cargo or fuel. These ships traveled to Antarctica, Guam, China, Australia and Greece. I was the officer responsible for the overall operation and maintenance of engine room machinery. Without Sea Year, my education would have been just like that at every other university. To this day, it has helped me stand out from other job applicants.
I never thought of myself as “the female engineer,” but being in a male-dominated environment required adjustments. Sometimes I’d cringe while hearing testosterone-fueled conversations wrought with foul or distasteful language, but I never felt unsafe or that I was in a situation that I couldn’t handle.