Sexual violence, harassment, racism and transphobia: Students at CSU’s Maritime Academy share their stories

A person wearing a hat and life vest steers a small boat and looks up at a large ship floating in water next to them.
Cadet Sophie Scopazzi, 25, a senior majoring in marine transportation at California State University’s Maritime Academy, takes a vessel out in the Carquinez Straight.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 15. I’m Ryan Fonseca.

Stories of harassment and assault keep coming out, and they never get easier to read. But they’re important, especially in terms of holding accountable institutions that are supposed to protect people from harm.

A Times investigation, published this week, reveals accounts of sexual violence, harassment, homophobia, transphobia and racism on California State University’s lesser-known campus — a maritime academy.

Located in Vallejo, Cal Maritime trains students for careers at sea. And, with roughly 800 students, it’s the smallest and “most insular of the CSU campuses,” Times reporter Colleen Shalby explained to me this week.

“Even though it’s a Cal State, it has a culture most people would find more similar to a military-style school,” she said. “Because of that [and] because of the industry, there are a lot of misogynistic issues ... that aren’t fixed [and] aren’t talked about.”


(For full transparency, I’ll note here that I teach journalism part time at Cal State Northridge)

Colleen and fellow Times reporter Robert J. Lopez spent the last couple of months talking to cadets, staff and faculty about those issues. From their reporting:

One woman told The Times she was raped by a male classmate and dropped out earlier this year to avoid facing her alleged attacker while a campus investigation has dragged on for months. A cadet discovered their motorcycle tires slashed and the word “dike” carved into the gas tank. Another student said she now carries a knife for protection after a cadet tried to coerce her into having sex.

The story is the latest in a series highlighting scandals within the CSU system over its handling of sexual misconduct and retaliation claims.

Robert said he and Colleen realized the story was “an opportunity” to take readers into a little-known culture — and an outlier among CSU schools.

“We’re talking about a campus that’s 80% men, 48% white, compared to the CSU overall, which is nearly 60% women and a little over 20% white,” he said.

Colleen said there’s a “real frustration” among those they spoke with over how campus leaders have addressed — or not addressed — reports of misconduct. Some students also worry about the consequences that speaking out could bring.

“We heard from so many cadets who spoke about fears of ruining their reputation if they were to go forward with reporting misconduct,” she said. “It’s a small industry, and they’re worried that their reputation on campus could follow them into their careers.”

The size of the campus means word can travel fast, Colleen said. Plus, there’s “the sea element,” she explained:

You’ve got students on this Golden Bear training ship, out at sea for months at a time. It doesn’t seem like privacy is something that’s guaranteed. That’s also been a huge factor in how reporting plays out among the cadets on the campus.

In a statement, Cal Maritime said top administrators have “strongly and repeatedly denounced” misconduct. The school cited actions it says aim to address the problems, including hiring two consultants to improve the complaint reporting process; increasing sexual harassment and reporting training; and opening a community center that serves as a “welcoming place for cadets to gather and study.”

A number of their sources were willing to go on the record, which Robert said “displayed a lot of courage.”


Colleen added: “We have connected with so many different women [and] people who have had these experiences of harassment and assault, and I just think that it’s incredibly courageous for anybody to come forward and share a personal story. It’s not something that we take for granted.”

You can learn more by reading Colleen and Robert’s investigation into CSU’s Maritime Academy.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


I’m still on P-22 watch, and the latest news isn’t great. The famed mountain lion won’t be returning to his Griffith Park home. Biologists say the big cat’s health is deteriorating and they’re considering whether to relocate him to a sanctuary or euthanize him. Los Angeles Times

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These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


To settle a civil rights lawsuit, the city of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department will pay $1 million to tenants evicted through a “crime-free” housing policy. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the city and the Sheriff’s Department in 2019, arguing the policy violated federal fair housing and antidiscrimination laws and unfairly targeted Black and Latino residents. Los Angeles Times


The timeline to build new housing in San Francisco is often measured in years. An analysis of city permit-approval data reveals it typically takes 627 calendar days to get a full building permit for a multifamily housing project and 861 days for a single-family residence. San Francisco Chronicle


A new report has found the Los Angeles Police Department is not fully tracking how its officers use facial recognition. The LAPD inspector general’s office says department personnel used the AI software nearly 2,000 times last year, but the agency lacks a clear process to document how often the technology is successful — and how often it leads to misidentifying people. Los Angeles Times

Police agencies in California are facing major staffing shortages — and departments in rural communities are feeling it the most. The two key factors: a lack of qualified applicants and wages too low to keep officers around for too long. CalMatters

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A drought emergency has been declared for all of Southern California. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is calling on all regional water agencies to immediately reduce their use of all imported supplies, citing “dire” conditions on the Colorado River. The river’s water levels have fallen dramatically and officials said it could reach “dead pool” levels (below the lowest intake valve). Los Angeles Times


As the drought persists, one enchanted garden at the foot of the Sierra tends to people. An array of fruit — including guavas, papaya, bananas and jujube — flourish at the 13-acre Woodlake Botanical Garden. Times writer Diana Marcum highlights the humans who keep the community garden green and growing. Los Angeles Times

Four more years for Mayor Max! (Or 28 more dog years!) I know journalists should avoid showing political favoritism, but there is one elected leader in California I’m very excited about: Mayor Max III of Idyllwild, who is by all appearances a very good boy. Max and his Cabinet (also dogs) make frequent public appearances and you too could meet him if you make the trip. But that’s not the only reason to visit — travel writers Julie Wolfson and Fiona Chandra put together a list of 19 other things to see and do in Idyllwild. Los Angeles Times


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Los Angeles: mostly sunny, 62. San Diego: mostly sunny, 61. San Francisco: mostly sunny, 55. San Jose: patchy frost and fog then mostly sunny, 56. Fresno: patchy frost then mostly sunny, 53. Sacramento: frost then sunny, 53.


Today’s California memory is from Sean Leonard:

When I arrived at LAX in 1974 as a foreign student from Hong Kong, I was wearing clothes from a tailor in Kowloon. I was greeted by my cousin, whose family immigrated to the United States several years prior. He was wearing a pair of jeans (no shirt, no shoes) and had a tattoo on his forearm. We got into his old Chevy Vega and went to his parents’ house in the Valley after stopping for a six-pack on the way. I thought to myself: “What have I done?” Now almost 50 years later, I am a proud naturalized U.S. citizen, been married for over 40 years with degrees from UCLA and USC, a Dodger fan and loving living in Southern California.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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