West Point is launching an investigation into whether a photo of female cadets with their arms raised violates military policy against political statement, a spokesperson told the Associated Press.
The photo shows a 16 African-American cadets in an “Old Corps” pose, but with their fists raised in what could be interpreted as a Black Lives Matter salute or a political salute in general. Those who know the graduates have said they were celebrating, and West Point’s chairwoman of the Board of Visitors, Brenda Sue Felton, told the Army Times that it was just one of many poses the women used. In fact, before the controversy, Felton shared an image of the women in a different pose.
It’s unclear if the matter will be resolved by the time the cadets are set to graduate on May 21.
The photo went viral last week after a former soldier, John Burk, shared it on his personal blog and on Facebook. Burk calls into question whether they should use a salute associated with “the killing of police officers,” although that the Black Lives Matter movement has never been associated with any killing of police officers and it’s unclear if that’s what the students even intended.
Burk told The New York Times that the cadets raising their fists would be similar to using a Nazi salute. “It’s not the fact that they are wrong for having their beliefs, it’s the fact they did it while in uniform,” he said.
Felton told the Army Times that she didn’t share that particular image because she knew it would have political ramifications, even though the cadets didn’t intend it that way.
“I knew it was their expression of pride and unity, but I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers,” Felton told the Army Times. “Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph.”
But according to West Point’s honor code, the students could still be in trouble, even if it they had no political objective, a military law expert told the Army Times.
No matter the political implications of the photo, the cadets are still in the minority at West Point. The military academy is still an increasingly white male school, with just 1.7 percent of the Class of 2016 being African-American women. In fact, according to the Times, this photo features all but one of the African-American women who are graduating.