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Academy Removes Questions About Racial and Religious Preference


After protests from civil rights groups, questions about racial and religious preference have been removed from the U.S. Naval Academy’s application form that allows local families to sponsor midshipmen.

Administrators of the academy decided late last month to change the six-page application, which collects personal and professional information from residents who want to open their homes to incoming academy freshmen.

The online form disappeared from the academy Web site shortly after July 11 news reports revealed complaints over the questions.

“The concern was raised, and so we decided to take a look at it,” Cmdr. Edward Austin, a spokesman for the Annapolis institution, told The Washington Post.

Chris Ledoux, an Annapolis resident, sparked the controversy this summer when he began calling local politicians to complain about the questions, which he discovered while perusing the form as a prospective sponsor. His inquiries prompted news reports and a letter to the academy superintendent from the Anne Arundel chapter of the NAACP.

“I am pleased,” Ledoux says of the academy’s decision. “What it at least tells me is that they recognized that it was wrong to ask those types of questions.”

The questions had been a little-noted piece of the sponsor applications for at least 10 years, according to academy officials.

The sponsor program itself goes back about 30 years, matching first-year students with families in the community who can provide the plebes a home away from home and a refuge from the rigors of academy life. Nearly 700 sponsors are hosting 1,200 students in the Class of 2010.

The sponsor form solicits information from prospective applicants about race, religion, ethnicity and interests. Until last month, it also asked them to state whether they would prefer a midshipman of a particular religion or race. The form also sought preferred hobbies, music, sports and home states.

Although prospective sponsors were required to answer the questions about race and religion, they could do so by stating that they had no preference. The vast majority of applicants stated no preference, according to academy spokeswoman Deborah Goode.

Carl Snowden, who as an aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens specializes in civil rights, says he was told that midshipmen will still be permitted to state their own racial and religious preferences in a sponsor, if they have any.

Austin told the Post he couldn’t confirm that, but he emphasized that the intent of the program was to help midshipmen, particularly those from remote home towns, to “feel comfortable in their surroundings.”

— Associated Press


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