Photo of Posing West Point Cadets Sparks Controversy


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Courtesy AP

Courtesy AP

A photo of recent West Point graduates is causing major controversy on social media.

The photo depicts sixteen female African American cadets from the famed military institution’s 2016 graduating class posing with their right fists raised toward the sky. The raised fist is famously a symbol of the Black Panther Party and has been used by some in the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years.

West Point officials have begun an investigation to determine whether the photo violates the academy’s strict rules on political expression while in uniform. Army Times editor Anthony Lombardo spoke to ABC News regarding the controversy saying:

“There’s a tradition at West Point for seniors where they pose and they have a very stoic look on their face intended to be a throwback to the old days. What makes this photo different is everyone is kind of doing the pose, but then there is the clenched fist in the air. If these men and women are in uniform, and they’re making a political statement, they could be afoul of the Defense Department regulation, and they could be in serious trouble for that.”

Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point grad and former Army Captain who currently serves as the chairwoman of the Academy’s Visitor’s Board spoke out in support of the cadets. She told the Army Times, “When I spent time with these cadets and heard them tell their stories and laugh and joke with each other, there’s no doubt in my mind how much they love West Point, they love the Army and they support each other.”

Fulton further sent her support by tweeting out a different image of the cadets with an empowering caption. In discussing her choice to tweet that photo, she said:

“I would not have re-tweeted the raised-fist photo because I am well aware that our culture views a black fist very differently from a white fist. 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. 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.”

The women are scheduled to graduate with the rest of the 2016 class on May 21.