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Culture Change at the Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy is making broad changes to its training program as part of its efforts to address the factors that may have contributed to widespread sexual assaults that were alleged to have taken place at the school.

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  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Cadets call it "the beast," five weeks of hard-core basic training that all freshmen must endure before starting classes at the Air Force Academy. But this year, the training was a little less beastly. While freshmen still had to endure grueling physical challenges, they did so without the humiliating verbal assaults by upperclassmen that characterized the training in years past. Instead, the older cadets shouted out encouragement to their new charges.

  • LT. GEN. JOHN ROSA, Academy Superintendent:

    There's not so much "in your face," as we call it, the yelling and the one-on-one interchange. It's been a much more professional environment.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    The new approach is part of a broad effort to repair the school's damaged reputation after a series of highly publicized investigations into allegations of widespread sexual assaults over many years, and charges that the academy punished the victims instead of the perpetrators.

  • LT. GEN. JOHN ROSA:

    But we'll get there.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Newly installed superintendent Lieutenant General John Rosa thinks treating young cadets with more professionalism from the very start will foster more unit cohesion, and reduce hostility directed at female cadets, and he hopes that in turn will reduce sexual harassment and assault.

  • LT. GEN. JOHN ROSA:

    If I said we were changing one thing, we're changing young people's mindsets. And we're trying to change, over time, if you change the mindset, what's acceptable and what's not acceptable.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    It all started last spring when dozens of former cadets came forward saying they had been raped while at the academy, and that when they reported the rapes, they were ignored by their superiors.

    In March, the Air Force secretary replaced the academy's top leadership team, and ordered that a 165-point Agenda for Change be adopted. In May, the Defense Department Inspector General's Survey found that nearly 20 percent of female cadets said they had been victims of sexual assault, 7 percent said it was in the form of rape or attempted rape. And in September, a civilian commission appointed by Congress concluded that there had been a "deep chasm" in leadership, both at the academy and the Pentagon. Former Congresswoman Tillie Fowler chaired that investigation.

  • TILLIE FOWLER:

    We believe that this chasm in leadership helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life. The roots of this crisis go as deep as the institution's culture. Just last year, more than one-fourth of the male cadets responding to the academy's own survey stated they did not believe that women belong at the academy. This is a severe problem in the culture of the academy, and reflects a failure of character and values.

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    Hup, two, three, four, hup, two, three, four…

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    General Rosa and the new leadership team say they're trying to change that culture. In addition to the "gentler" treatment of freshmen, they have a tough new alcohol policy. A cadet can be kicked out after two infractions. Academy officials say that alcohol was involved in at least 40 percent of the sexual assault cases.

    The new administration has also made it clear that criminal activity of any kind will not be tolerated. Even failure to report offenses of other cadets can be grounds for dismissal.

    There's a new emphasis on educating cadets about the necessity to report assaults, and a demand that cadets not tolerate inappropriate behavior by their peers. Recently, Brigadier General John Weida, the new commandant of the cadets, brandished a sword as he lectured students about the warrior heritage they needed to uphold.

    BRIG. GEN. JOHN WEIDA, Commandant of Cadets: Ladies and gentlemen, if you think we don't have a sexual assault or sexual harassment problem at the Air Force Academy, your head is in the sand. Pull it out right now.

    If we don't reverse this trend, the very existence of this institution is threatened. And there's a few in the audience that I've made eye contact with that I'm not sure get it. You will get it, or you will leave this institution.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Senior Cadet Dana Stockton says he's gotten the message loud and clear. He says he won't stand idly by if he sees offensive behavior.

  • DANA STOCKTON, Senior Cadet:

    We all see little things now that need to be fixed, just the little things that never have been looked at before. And all those things now, we see, and we'll stop.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Little things like?

  • DANA STOCKTON:

    Little things like stupid jokes. There's… sometimes stupid jokes go on here, and they're not necessary, and a lot of the females here just brush it off, which… and it's not a big deal. But it is a big deal now, and we realize that, and those things are changing.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Junior Cadet Stephanie Vidal says other things are changing, too. In previous years, Vidal says many female cadets felt pressure not to report assaults because it would reflect poorly on their squadrons. She says that's not the case anymore.

  • STEPHANIE VIDAL, Junior Cadet:

    There's a sense that if we have an issue as females to discuss, that people are open to hear and to listen. There's also a sense that if there is a problem, you won't get ridiculed or ostracized for coming forth.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    In the past, assault victims said the system in which senior cadets controlled virtually every aspect of a freshman's life also needed to change. Last spring, a rape victim explained the connection to the NewsHour correspondent Betty Ann Bowser.

  • “LIZ,” Former Cadet:

    In essence, it's kids training kids, and that's really what it comes down to. It's teenagers on teenagers. And there is a tremendous amount of power vested in these teenagers that are so-called "above" other teenagers, just because of the ranking system. And that does teach discipline, but it is just taken way out of context sometimes.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    But does that also encourage men to use their power over women, including rape?

  • “LIZ:

    " Yes, it does. They really… it really is a power trip. It definitely is a power trip. That's what rape is all about. It's not about the sex at all.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Senior Cadet Kristina Belcourt says that training system has been abolished by the new administration.

  • KRISTINA BELTCOURT:

    You don't have people in a direct position of authority, like where they control every single aspect of your life anymore. You have people that will help you out, more so than controlling you. There's a lot more discipline instead of, like…

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Harassment?

  • KRISTINA BELTCOURT:

    Not harassment. We called it… we called it beating, but it wasn't beating. It was just physical training. So there's a lot less of that, and I think that really improves the environment around here.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    But even as some cadets see positive changes, a recent academy survey tells a different story. Eight in ten cadets say they've heard other cadets make sexual slurs and jokes. 40 percent of the cadets said they drank while underage. Almost one-fifth of female cadets said they don't know how to report sexual misconduct. And a nearly equal number of women said they feared reprisal if they did file such reports.

    Ironically, some of that fear may be a result of the new Agenda for Change, which abolished confidential reporting of sexual assault. Previously, victims' names weren't made public. That change troubles Cadet Belcourt.

  • KRISTINA BELTCOURT:

    I have problems with it, simply because the victims that I've known have had problems bringing it forward, because you don't want your dirty laundry to be aired to everyone.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    The loss of confidentiality also troubled the Fowler Commission.

  • TILLIE FOWLER:

    The agenda for change overlooked an established form of privileged communication that is currently available throughout the armed forces, and can benefit cadet victims.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    General Rosa says the reason confidentiality as abolished was to aid in the prosecution of cases.

  • LT. GEN. JOHN ROSA:

    You report a crime. That way, you have a victim. The commander — it's in the chain of command. The commander knows that we have a victim. We can preserve evidence, take care of that victim, preserve evidence so that as the trauma passes, we can bring the appropriate action to the alleged perpetrator. So that's the program we have now.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    But Rosa says Air Force officials are aware of the widespread opposition to the change, and they're working to see if a compromise solution can be worked out.

  • SPOKESMAN:

    Hup, two, three, four…

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    He says the entire Agenda for Change is just a blueprint, and will be revised if the culture doesn't fundamentally improve at the academy.

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