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Honor Thy Academy

When Jessica Brakey first enrolled in the United States Air Force Academy, she believed in its hallowed honor tradition. Like every other cadet, she agreed to abide by the code: We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. But during her time there, she discovered that living honorably has been lost on many cadets. In July, she voiced her concerns to a congressionally appointed independent panel looking into the academy rape scandal.

"The honor code is totally bogus. No one internalizes it. That's why there are so many scandals down there," says Jessica, one of the first cadets to come forward with allegations of rape and subsequent mistreatment by academy officials ("The War Within," January 30).

As a former member of the cadet committee that enforces the honor code, Jessica saw firsthand how the very system meant to uphold integrity was twisted for dishonorable purposes. She says cadets stacked the honor boards to kick out someone they didn't like -- or to go easy on someone they did. As a past player on the academy's intercollegiate basketball team, she saw rampant cheating among athletes. Before exams, certain teachers, she says, would prep football players, who would then pass along test answers to friends.

But while those cadets were protected, other students found themselves being disenrolled for what they believe were bogus honor charges. Andrea Prasse was harassed by a male cadet for several months, continually rebuffing him until he retaliated by accusing her of lying about how she completed a class assignment ("Honor Rolled," July 17). Her professors and commanding officer stated in writing that she didn't lie, but an honor board voted to disenroll her in May 2002 anyway. Andrea's case eventually made it to Air Force Secretary James Roche, but earlier this summer it was returned to the academy for new superintendent Lieutenant General John Rosa to reconsider.

Andrea's attorney views this as a good sign, because Rosa has been much more open than his predecessors, having vowed at a recent press conference to be completely honest with the public. "I hope that the due process concerns we've raised will be carefully looked at by the superintendent, because they are very significant issues," says Milwaukee attorney Lester Pines. "I think with fresh eyes and a new attitude, we'll get positive results."

The academy, after all, is reconsidering many of its policies, especially since dishonorable acts are continuing to surface. Seven male cadets were recently caught drinking in a hotel room with high school girls, and a recent Department of Defense survey revealed that approximately one in five cadets has been sexually assaulted while at the academy. In response to the report, Rosa issued a statement in which he said it's "clear that we have to address the problem, and we have to address it now."

Of the 579 female cadets surveyed in May, 45.5 percent indicated that they'd experienced retribution for reporting rape or sexual assault -- exactly why Jessica says she was kicked out last fall. Most of the assaults occurred on base or at off-base events sponsored by the academy, and nearly 90 percent of the incidents were cadet on cadet.

Jessica hopes the independent panel will address honor in its report, which is supposed to come out later this month. According to her, honor-code abuses are as responsible for fostering a climate that has allowed sexual assault as is the academy's fourth-class system, which gives upperclassmen control over underclassmen. In the Agenda for Change, a set of reforms meant to improve the academy culture for women, some of that power was removed from senior-ranking cadets.

"If they can revamp the fourth-class system," Jessica says, "they can revamp the honor system, too."

 
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