Four years at the Naval Academy is a grueling experience for anyone, from the academics and the military requirements to the physical, emotional, and mental challenges. We had it coming from all sides. And for the women during my time at the Academy, we had the added burden of, well, being women.
But there were men who were harassed as well. One situation that always stands out in my mind is when several upperclassmen aimed their displeasure at one of my male classmates. We were second class (juniors), and the first class (seniors) picked on him for every slight infraction they could find, giving him more and more demerits. His room was not perfect, or his PE clothes were not removed from the hallway (that is where we put them to dry out in the sweltering Annapolis heat). I do not know why they singled him out. Perhaps it was because he was quite smart in unconventional ways.
Over time, their nearly constant criticism of him began to affect not only him and his grades, but the overall morale within our company.
Our company commander called the second classmen together to inquire about why morale was suffering. “What’s going on?” he asked.
The room fell silent.
This classmate was an engineering major like I was, and second- class year is the most academically challenging, especially for engineers, so I understood the pressure he was under. It is the “make or break” year with the most difficult courses, and success in these courses determines whether you will remain in your major. My classmate did not need or deserve the extra harassment he was receiving.
It seemed the elephant in the room was standing on my toes. It was time to speak up. “The first classmen are harassing our classmate,” I said, my voice loud and clear. “It needs to stop. It is unfair and is affecting his performance.”
The company commander looked shocked—I think not only because a woman had spoken up, but also because, as our leader, he did not know what was going on. I stood even taller as I went over the details of the situation, knowing that unit cohesion and morale needed to be improved. My classmates smiled in approval.
The commander, a first classman himself, took action with his own classmates. He directed that all the harassment be stopped, and slowly morale improved. At our graduation a year and a half later, that same classmate’s mother thanked me for standing up for her son. She said it made a big difference for him.
Through my time at the Naval Academy, I learned that I cannot fight all the battles. But I can be selective in the ones I do fight, speak out and hold my ground. To this day, I know that while I cannot change the world, I can change my piece of it.
We need to remember to stand up for others as well as ourselves. Sometimes these issues fall under the radar, and the leaders don’t know what is happening in their organizations. Inform them. Unfair treatment of others must always be stopped. It wears on everyone. Speak up and be the one who makes the difference.
What needs to be spoken in your organization? What change do you desire? Whose voice is not being heard?
Remember stand up and speak out. While we cannot change the world, we can change our piece of it.
Need some coaching or help navigating through some current issues? Drop me a line at CaptainBarbaraBell.com. Check out my book: Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High – in it I have some great questions to stimulate more conversation. I promise.
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