West Point is investigating a photograph showing 16 female cadets posing with their fists raised outside of a US Military Academy barracks, the Army Times reports.
A raised fist is a gesture that has been associated with political movements for centuries. Suffragettes, union activists, and civil rights activists have all marched with and displayed raised fists. The Black Panthers, a black power group in the 1960s also adopted it, and more recently, the gesture has become part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The political history of the gesture, as well as the perceived race of the cadets, has moved some to argue that the photo violates Department of Defence Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.
The directive states that active members of the armed forces “should not engage in partisan political activity” and even nonactive members “should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.” As cadets in the US Military Academy, the women are considered to be active members of the armed forces, and therefore barred from making political statements.
“We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the US Military Academy’s Class of 2016,” West Point’s director of public affairs Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker wrote in a statement emailed to the Army Times. “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter,” the statement continued.
The picture went viral after John Burk, a former soldier, posted the photo in a blog post titled “Racism within West Point” on his In The Arena fitness blog.
Burk’s post was shared upwards of a thousand times on Facebook.
Burk writes that the cadets in the picture have been “making their voices heard” using Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app.
In his post, Burk also quotes an anonymous source who says students are hesitant to discuss the issue because they could be expelled or forced to repeat years if they disrespect anyone.
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