AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Brig. Gen. Dana Born (search), the newly appointed academic dean of the Air Force Academy (search), said the institution has emerged stronger following a sexual assault scandal that led to widespread reforms and a leadership shake-up.
Nearly 150 women came forward last year to say they had been assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993-2003, with many alleging that they were punished, ignored or ostracized by commanders when they spoke out.
In an interview in her office, Born said, "We all have to become smarter about how we see sexual assault and sexual harassment (search)," adding the scandal "was the lightning rod that hit the Air Force Academy."
Nominated by President Bush in July, Born is the first woman to be faculty dean. She succeeds Brig. Gen. David A. Wagie, who was criticized last year by a congressional panel for failing to recognize the academy's growing sexual assault problem. Wagie, who was cleared by the Pentagon of any wrongdoing, retired in August.
Outside investigations concluded the academy's culture created the conditions that contributed to the scandal. That includes lingering resistance to having female cadets at all: Last year, a survey of cadets found 22 percent did not believe women belonged here, more than a quarter of a century after they were first admitted.
However, cadets have become more accepting of women, according to a survey earlier this year.
Many victims said they were left adrift by commanders and school staff or penalized for coming forward. Others said their grades dropped dramatically.
In a statement Born sent to faculty members, she told them to watch for signs of trouble — everything from "pronounced changes" in academic performance and conduct to a failure to perform assignments.
"The experiences that I have had and the academic training that I have had will be fruitful," said Born, who was previously a professor and head of the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department at the academy. She also is a 1983 graduate of the academy.
"You are changing the heart. You are changing the moral basis," said Born, adding that the target is not just students but staff and teachers. "It is focusing on everybody getting better."
Lt. Gen. John Rosa (search), the academy superintendent brought in at the height of the scandal, is pushing the staff to make sure gender, discrimination and harassment issues are part of virtually every class.
Cadets have had lectures about the need for treating each other with respect, and detailed explanations of what constitutes sexual assault. Every cadet takes annual classes in ethics and leadership.
Born, a marathon runner who was recruited to the academy as a track and cross country athlete, believes that just as the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks led to renewed patriotism and increased vigilance in the country, the sex assault scandal fostered a better environment at the academy.
"Truth rises to the top, and good things can come out of bad situations," said Born, who is married to a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and is the mother of two daughters.
Born compares the struggle here to one of her 26.2-mile-long races.
"You might be tired after two miles, but if you want to get where you are targeting" you have to keep going, Born said. "We've got to keep running in that direction."