‘Always have a knife with you’: Women and trans students at CSU face sexual harassment and hate crime

‘Always have a knife with you’: Women and trans students at CSU face sexual harassment and hate crime
Women and trans students of California State University's Maritime Academy have protested against hate crime and sexual harassment (California State University/Instagram)

MORROW COVE, CALIFORNIA: Fear of sexual harassment and hate crime has been gripping women and trans students at California State University’s Maritime Academy, an advanced training facility for pupils aiming for maritime jobs. But the cadets at the academy last year decided to voice their protest against the crimes and confronted the school’s president.

In November 2021, hundreds of cadets gathered on the Quad and raised their voices against what they described as widespread sexual harassment, racism, and hostility toward women, transgender, and non-binary students. Voicing their concerns, a female cadet publicly told school president Thomas Cropper about an incident when a male cadet sexually harassed her. Another cadet accused the administration of failing to take disciplinary actions against students who sent texts calling trans individuals "fags" and equating them to castrated dogs, according to Kansas City.

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The Los Angeles Times cited The Times and stated that long-standing allegations of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexual assault on campus and during training cruises have created a fearful environment for many students of the school, one of seven maritime academies in the United States and the only one of its kind on the West Coast.

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Earlier this year, a Times investigation found flaws and anomalies in how schools in the biggest public four-year university system in the country handle allegations of sexual assault and retribution. A female cadet told the Times that she was sexually assaulted by a male classmate and dropped out earlier this year to avoid facing her alleged attacker while a campus investigation dragged on for months. Another cadet revealed that she started carrying a knife with herself after a male student tried to coerce her into having sex.

She now offers this advice to other women on campus: “Always have a knife with you.”

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The long list of accusations at the 800-student campus on San Francisco Bay is yet another crisis the California State University system is facing amid calls for reforms and leading to the resignation of top executives. The smallest and most exclusive of the CSU colleges, Cal Maritime has up to this point avoided the public scrutiny that has rocked other institutions in the system. One reason is that the school prepares cadets, as they are called, for careers in the maritime industry, and some fear formally reporting misconduct will damage their future job prospects, according to students, faculty, and alumni.

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After the protest on the quad, Cropper and senior administrators said they would hire a full-time coordinator and three deputies to oversee misconduct investigations at the academy. But it has been a year and the administration has failed to hire the coordinator. The administration has now said it will no longer hire the deputies and will rely on about half a dozen employees as “liaisons” who will respond to initial reports and concerns regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, and misconduct.

The scale of challenges faced by cadets on the campus was captured in two reports completed this year by outside experts in sexual misconduct and student rights. One report focused on campus issues and was ordered by the faculty senate in response to longstanding concerns. The other examined training cruise culture and was requested by the administration following reported misconducts.

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The report focusing on training cruise culture referenced unspecified sexual misconduct on the training ship Golden Bear last year and stated that the cadets on the ship reported frequent use of the N-word and “rampant use” of the words ‘faggot,’ ‘homo,’ ‘dyke,’ to refer to fellow cadets. The other report ordered by the senate revealed that the cadets were unwilling to file official complaints about misconduct for fear of facing punishment, being the target of class rumors, and jeopardizing their careers. “Females expressed an understanding that it is not a matter of ‘if’ they will experience sexual harassment or assault,” the report concluded, “but ‘when’ and ‘how often.’”

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