Seeking information about why service academies enroll so few women — roughly 20 percent of their student bodies — the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School has filed suit against the Department of Defense.
The suit, which the clinic filed on Feb. 3, claims the defense department violated the Freedom of Information Act when it denied access to records about military academy admissions and recruitment. The clinic partnered with the Service Women’s Action Network, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Connecticut to file the suit.
“We want the records to find out why it is that the government is running these premier, elite, free colleges that have classes with no more than a quarter of the class being women,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Ariela Migdal. “If you look at other top 20 colleges, you’re never going to see classes that are 75 percent or more men.”
Currently, 16.6 percent of West Point’s student body is female, compared to 22.4 percent in the Air Force Academy and 21.6 percent in the Naval Academy.
The Veterans Legal Services Clinic enables law school students to participate in veteran advocacy.
Ashley Anderson LAW ’16, who interns at the clinic, said the events leading up to the case began when SWAN hired the clinic to investigate why the number of women in military academies is so low. On behalf of SWAN, the clinic put in FOIA requests looking for admissions and recruiting data and policies, which would reveal whether or not these schools have particular admissions targets, Anderson said.
Phoebe Clarke LAW ’15, an intern at the clinic, said while West Point and the Air Force Academy did not disclose documents, the Naval Academy responded to the FOIA request with some documents, but fewer than what was requested. Once the decision was made to proceed with legal action, SWAN brought on the ACLU, Anderson said.
According to Anderson, the suit aims to compel the service academies to release their recruiting and admissions data so a thorough investigation can be completed.
“The idea is that if they have nothing to hide they should be releasing this information to the public, [which] they are required to do by law,” she said.
The defense department has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, after which it may claim the documents are exempt from FOIA or hand over the requested documents. With the documents, Migdal said the ACLU hopes to create materials to educate the public about military academies’ admissions and recruitment policies.
Elizabeth Deutsch LAW ’16, an intern at the clinic, said the reason so few women matriculate to military academies might be linked to what she described as misogynistic cultures at military academies.
“We think the fact that there are so few women contributes to [this] misogynistic culture,” she said. “So our hope is that if larger rates of women could matriculate, we would see some of the misogynistic culture dissipate.”
Similarly, Clarke said she believes the documents will reveal discrimination in admissions at military academies. Clarke added that the plaintiffs are just unsure of what stage in the admissions process this is happening. Once this is identified, Clarke said, the ultimate goal is to come up with an idea for a policy to prevent this discrimination.
Clarke said she is hopeful that the case will not go to trial and that the plaintiffs will come to an agreement with the academies to get access to the documents. She also clarified that the academies have not declined to give over the documents. Rather, they have simply not responded to the FOIA request. Clarke said under the FOIA, the academies are allowed to claim that the documents are exempt from the FOIA. But, she noted, the problem is that the academies have not given any response to the plaintiffs, who submitted the FOIA request this fall.
According to the Pew Research Center, from 1973 to 2010, the number of active-duty women enlisted in the United States military has grown from approximately 42,000 to 167,000.