A pair of recent hazing incidents have led the Air Force Academy's athletic department to employ an ombudsman to handle complaints, as well as institute a new system for cadets to anonymously report concerns.
The changes are the result on an independent review of the program that commenced in late 2016, following a criminal investigation that led to the first court-martial charges for hazing in the school's history.
According to The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo., pending cases of alleged hazing involve the academy's swimming and lacrosse programs. Freshman swimmers complained about a hazing ritual that included eating to the point of sickness and a rite that involved naked upperclassmen and threatened — but phony — demands for oral sex. Details of the men's lacrosse incident have not been made public, but the team's head coach left the school in its wake.
The review, by North Carolina consulting firm Collegiate Sports Associates, found the academy had strong programs in place to instill military values and prevent sexual assault. But confused lines of communication and a rigid command structure allowed misconduct, the report found.
"There is no documented alternative for reporting outside the chain-of-command for unacceptable behavior that resides within the hierarchy," the report said.
In a written statement from Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the academy said it is moving quickly to address the issues found in the report.
"While we are heartened by the review stating that our program is in many ways 'a model for NCAA programs with high standards for behavior and performance and specific training protocols for developing future leaders,' we also have opportunities to improve our culture and climate, and we are committed to implementing programs to address these areas," Silveria said.
In addition to the ombudsman and anonymous reporting system, the academy also is reinforcing its athletic code of conduct, which will be taught to coaches and teams.
"Our mission at the United States Air Force Academy is drastically different than other civilian universities," Silveria said. "We train, educate and inspire leaders of character — leaders of Airmen — who will directly contribute to our nation's security."
A 2014 Gazette investigation found that academy athletes had engaged in a pattern of misconduct that included drug abuse, sexual assault and cheating in class. While those issues were addressed and mostly eradicated, hazing emerged as a new and escalating issue.
"What once may have been acceptable 'initiation' behavior has evolved over time to be inappropriate or hazing," the report found. "Often these activities are built into the lore of a program and passed on from each class by upperclass cadets who had recently gone through the same ritual."