The new superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy has at least two nicknames. The Navy identifies him as Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr. His “challenge coin,” a special medallion that is a token of his military position, refers to the three-star officer as Ted “Slapshot” Carter.
So what’s up with the hockey moniker? It turns out that Carter, of the Annapolis class of 1981, played center back then on the academy’s hockey team. “I had a really bad slapshot,” he said.
This bit of self-deprecation gives some insight into the 55-year-old aviator and former president of the U.S. Naval War College who took the helm at Annapolis in July. Carter, the academy’s 62nd superintendent, oversees the undergraduate education of about 4,500 future Navy and Marine officers. He is highly decorated, a Top Gun naval flight officer who landed on 19 aircraft carriers and flew 125 combat missions to support operations in places such as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. His aviation call sign: “Slapshot.”
He aims to be known as plain-spoken and accessible.
That is hard to do when the subject is sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. A Washington Post article this week explored a sexual assault prevention program at Annapolis that has been under way since 2007. With midshipmen serving as peer educators, the program requires 14 hours of training over four years. That is on top of other activities on the topic. In all, midshipmen will spend about 30 hours on sexual assault response and prevention before they graduate. They have no choice — this is the military, after all — but still, that level of immersion is far more extensive than the typical undergraduate would experience at a civilian college.
Carter said the key is to put as much of the training as possible in the hands of midshipmen themselves.
“We have empowered the brigade to lead this discussion,” he said. “There’s no better way to change the culture on a college campus.”
The volume of training, starting when the students enter as “plebes” and continuing through their fourth year as “firsties,” is striking. The training program known as Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education, or SHAPE, goes like this in the first year, according to a summary from the academy:
- Program overview and definitions: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault
- Bystander intervention
- Perpetrator characteristics and risk reduction
- Sexual harassment
In the second year:
- Social conformity
- Gender socialization
In the third year:
- Victim/survivor impact
- Military case studies; officer’s role and leadership
In the fourth year there is a final session called Character Capstone. There is also a series of guest speakers and presentations. Is this the right amount? Too little? Too much? Carter acknowledges that there are unknowns.
“You can actually get sexual assault education fatigue, I think,” he said. “You can overdo it.”
He said the key is not quantity but quality.
“The program you’re witnessing now is very good,” Carter said. “I’ve sat in on a number of these myself. I was impressed.”
Carter took office soon after an episode that had put the academy under an intense spotlight. In 2013, a female midshipman accused three academy football players of sexual assault. Charges against two of the men were eventually dropped, and the third was acquitted in a court martial. Two of the men wound up leaving the academy before graduation, and one graduated in a private ceremony. The accuser, who graduated last spring, became a pariah to many on the small campus known as the Yard. Every midshipman lives in the same massive dormitory: Bancroft Hall.
Carter said he does not believe that the case will deter midshipmen in the future from stepping forward to report sexual assault. He said he believes there is “a great deal of trust” in the reporting system. Survivors of sexual assault, male and female, have come to his office for private discussions, he said. “I was very pleased that they wanted to come talk to me,” Carter said.
When Carter was a midshipman, he said, there was nothing like SHAPE. Women had just been admitted to the academy for the first time in 1976. They faced major challenges upon entering a male-dominated culture. Many still do. A Defense Department survey — which guaranteed respondents confidentiality — found that 44 percent of women at the academy perceived some form of sexual harassment in 2013-14, compared to 9 percent of men. (About one fifth of midshipmen nowadays are female.)
Two years earlier, the share of women in Annapolis who reported perceiving sexual harassment was 61 percent.
The same confidential survey found that 8 percent of women at Annapolis experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2013-14, down from 15 percent two years earlier.
Carter, who established a Naval Leadership and Ethics Center during his tenure at the war college in Rhode Island, said the academy in Annapolis has much work to do. He said he wants to get sexual harassment and assault “down to zero — or as close to zero as I can.” Character education, he said, is “my number one priority.”
It is worth noting that not everyone at Annapolis is a fan of SHAPE. Bruce Fleming, an English professor at the academy, wrote in an e-mail that “students hate and resent these things.” He said he has heard many complaints over the years. “Attitudes can be changed, but not by force, not by other students telling them what to think,” Fleming wrote. A frequent internal critic of the academy, Fleming was the subject of a Post article last year. The article reported that he had criticized the training for fostering a presumption of guilt against male students — an assertion that drew him into significant controversy on the Yard.
Asked about Fleming’s latest remarks, Cmdr. John Schofield, the academy’s spokesman, wrote: “We are continually modelling the program to reflect feedback and lessons learned. We want the program properly postured to ensure this is the very best training and education experience it can be on this extremely important issue. … We MUST continue to promote a positive command climate where no form of sexual harassment or [unwanted sexual contact] is ever acceptable; our values-based culture of dignity and mutual respect demands nothing less.”
Correction: A previous version of this item incorrectly referred to Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr. as a pilot. His designation is naval flight officer. This version has been updated.