West Point Military Academy graduates record number of African American female cadets

Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 @ 12:51 PM

In this May 7, 2019 photo, black female cadets with the Class of 2019 pose at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. The 34 women comprise a small slice of the roughly 1,000 cadets in the class. The cadets say they're proud to be part of a milestone at the historic academy after four years of testing their limits.
Hallie H. Pound/AP
In this May 7, 2019 photo, black female cadets with the Class of 2019 pose at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. The 34 women comprise a small slice of the roughly 1,000 cadets in the class. The cadets say they're proud to be part of a milestone at the historic academy after four years of testing their limits.(Hallie H. Pound/AP)

The class of 2019 at West Point Military Academy made history as the federal academy graduated a record number of African American women.

The Associated Press reported that although the population of West Point is mostly made up of white males, 34 African American women graduated as cadets Saturday. There are about 1,000 cadets in the class of 2019.

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“Last year’s graduating class had 27 (African American women),” West Point spokesman Frank Demaro told CNN. “And the expectation is next year's class will be even larger than this year’s.”

NBC News reported that all of the record-making African American female graduates posed for a photo on the academy’s campus.

“It was just very overwhelming to see all of our sisters -- us just standing there in solidarity,” cadet Jabreal Arrington told NBC News.

“I just showed myself and those who thought I couldn’t do it initially that yes, I can,” senior cadet Stephanie Riley told CNN. “And not just, yes, I can. I can show other little girls that yes, you can come to West Point. Yes, you can do something that maybe the rest of your peers aren’t actually doing. And yes, you can be different from the rest of the group.”

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As inspiring as the photo was, many of the cadets said they’ve felt isolated. In most cases, the women were among the few African Americans in their classes.

“It hasn’t always been pretty,” cadet Tiffany Welch-Baker said. “There are some moments here where you feel like, ‘Am I worthy? Do I deserve to be here?’”

“I definitely struggled sometimes, because sometimes I’d be the only woman of color, or even woman in general in my classes,” cadet Bria Errington told NBC News.

Before 1976, women were not allowed to attend West Point. In 1980, 62 women graduated as part of the first co-ed graduating class. In 2014, West Point created the Office of the Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity for inclusion outreach initiatives. 

Graduates from West Point are commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and serve on active duty for five years. In the first year after graduation, they attend a Basic Officer Leader Course for general information and training, according to the West Point website.