On Saturday, 34 women graduated from West Point U.S. Military Academy. While that number may seem relatively small when compared to the 1,000 cadets in the Class of 2019, it’s a record for the school and one that the cadets are rightly proud to be a part of.
West Point is known to be challenging, but for black female cadets, the experience can be even more so. As graduate Stephanie Riley told the Army Times, fellow students look to these young women for their comments during classroom discussions about race. They often feel pressure to “prove” themselves.
West Point has been on a mission of diversification since 2013 when the school was instructed by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno to recruit more minorities. The academy opened a diversity office, broadened their search for candidates into metropolitan areas, and added NCAA women’s lacrosse and rugby teams to attract athletes.
This year’s graduating class boasted a total of 223 women; the largest since the school graduated its first female cadets in 1980. There were 110 black graduates, and 88 Latinx – the largest number ever.
“We’re beginning to see the fruits of our labors,” said director of admissions Col. Deborah McDonald.
However, the attempts at diversification haven’t come easily. Sexual harassment and assault have been so rampant that in February superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams suspended classes for a day so the academy could focus intently on correcting the issue.
But in spite of the challenges, the cadets are proud of their school, and their accomplishments.
“I don’t think I would trade this experience for anything in the world,” said graduate Gabrielle Young. “I know that I’ve accomplished a lot and I know that I’m prepared for whatever.”