Amid A 'Stark' Racial Disparity In Military Academy Nominations, Should Congress Be Doing More?
Speaker 1: 00:00 A recent study found minority students are underrepresented. When members of Congress nominate people to attend the nation's elite military academies, advocates are calling on Congress to make the 200 year old nomination system more equitable for students of color Deseret Diorio reports for the American Homefront project. Speaker 2: 00:20 Nominations are required by law for students who want to study at military service academies. If they can get one and meet the academy strict standards for admission, it means a free education in exchange for five years of service, the Connecticut veterans legal center analyzed over two decades of congressional nominations. The center's director, Liam Brennan says the results are young. Speaker 3: 00:43 Black Americans make up about 15% of the young adult population, but black students only receive 6% of current members nominations. The military service academies. That's a great big differential. Speaker 2: 00:54 Brennan found similar disparities for Latinos. 8% get nominations, even though they make up about 22% of young adults, we Speaker 3: 01:02 Expected to see discrepancies. The extent of the discrepancies were surprising Speaker 2: 01:06 And others who've studied the issue. Say there are a lot of reasons for those discrepancies. Some are rooted in a lack of equity in public schools, others involve how hard members of Congress work to find diverse nominees. Danielle Anderson is with the black veterans project. She graduated from the Naval academy, but says few minority teenagers are even aware. That's an option. Her junior ROTC commander suggested she give it a shot. We've Speaker 4: 01:31 Had some conversations about what a service academy even is. I really had no idea Speaker 2: 01:36 Of Anderson says even minority students who do know about the academies might not feel like they'd be welcomed there or successful due to racism, Speaker 4: 01:46 Microaggressions, sometimes macroaggressions. Um, and this continues throughout your, your tenure throughout your career. And you're still expected to perform at the highest levels of anyone your age that Speaker 2: 01:58 Could lead to fewer applicants of color. Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland says there's a lack of qualified minority students who ask him for a nomination. I have Speaker 5: 02:08 A, an underrepresented applicant pool African-American and Latino students are not applying at the same levels that I want them to apply. The Speaker 2: 02:19 Report found just 38% of Brown's nominations went to applicants of color in his majority minority district. Speaker 5: 02:26 We're doing our hardest to squeeze the very best out of the small pool. And we actually over-perform when it comes to appointments, Speaker 2: 02:33 Some lawmakers say, if you want to nominate more diverse applicants, go out and find them. Students Speaker 6: 02:39 Sometimes need to be, be told the pathway to college is open to you. And that's true for the service academies. Speaker 2: 02:46 That's former air force secretary and former Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson. She nominated hundreds of students to the academies and she's an air force academy, alum herself. She says some lawmakers and their staffs need to put more effort into the nomination process. For some people Speaker 6: 03:02 It's just not a high enough priority to spend time training members of Congress on how to do this. If I were to do one thing, it would be to focus on outreach and training the local office of members of Congress, Speaker 2: 03:17 But Wilson. Now the president of the university of Texas at El Paso defends the congressional nomination system, she says, it's a good way to ensure the militaries future leaders come from all over the country. As the Speaker 6: 03:29 Size of the military has gone down. There are communities and regions of the country that have very little connection to the military at all. And the nomination process helps fight against that by geographic dispersion of nominations, Speaker 2: 03:44 Uh, recently passed law aims to standardize the way congressional offices collect demographic data on their nominees and make it more transparent. But there are no plans to change the nomination system, which has been law since 1802. When Thomas Jefferson established the military academy at west point I'm Deseret Diorio on long island. This story was produced by the American Speaker 1: 04:07 Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.