The 16 cadets — members of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 — did not violate any code of conduct regulations, and the April 26 photo was one of several that the young women took in a spur-of-the-moment shot, the prestigious military academy said.
“It was intended to demonstrate ‘unity’ and ‘pride,’ according to the findings of the inquiry,” according to a statement.
A major who conducted the official inquiry still noted that the pose appeared “inappropriate,” according to the Army Times.
The inquiry ultimately found that there was no intention of making a political statement — although backlash online suggested otherwise after the photo went viral.
Former soldier John Burk wrote on his blog that such an “overt display of the black lives matter movement” is unprofessional when wearing the uniform of the academy. He titled his post, “Racism Within West Point.”
Other graduates, however, came to the cadets’ defense, including Mary Tobin, a black woman who graduated from West Point in 2003.
She wrote on Facebook that she was worried how others would interpret the image: “No matter what way we slice it, if a black person displays ‘the fist,’ it is immediately associated with being a symbol of either pride or racism and there is no way around that.”
A raised fist — often associated with acts of triumph or protest — has been used by athletes and union members, political groups and activists. It is also seen as call for solidarity, and became widely linked with America’s black nationalist movement of the 1960s.
But in this case, West Point said, the young women weren’t promoting anything. It was just one picture of many recreating “old corps” photos in a nod to the school’s 19th century predecessors — part of a tradition on campus.
Academy officials asked everyone on campus to be mindful of appearances.
“As members of the Profession of Arms, we are held to a high standard, where our actions are constantly observed and scrutinized in the public domain,” Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., academy superintendent, said in a letter to the campus. “We all must understand that a symbol or gesture that one group of people may find harmless may offend others. As Army officers, we are not afforded the luxury of a lack of awareness of how we are perceived.”
The women are still set to graduate May 21, but will be afforded counseling prior to the ceremony, the Army Times reported.