• U.S.

MERCHANT MARINE: Sex and the Single Sailor

2 minute read

Nancy Donnelly, 20, of Oxon Hill, Md., had a rather unusual ambition for a woman: she wanted to be an officer aboard a ship. So she enrolled last year in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., which began accepting women in 1974 (current enrollment: 975 men and 25 women). But her career ran aground on an uncharted double standard.

Trouble began after a mixer one evening last March, when she and a male cadet, whom she loyally refused to identify—he apparently was her financé, Mark Lewis, 22, a senior from Las Vegas—went to bed in her dorm room. Most colleges officially frown on student sex on campus but handle the matter by looking the other way. Not so the Merchant Marine Academy, which classifies copulation in the barracks as conduct unbecoming and worthy of dismissal.

Sort of Scapegoat. Donnelly and her companion were discovered in bed by her roommate and a male cadet, who explained later that they were looking for some aspirin. The male cadet, known on campus as “Turkey,” tipped academy officials, who pressured Donnelly to resign but did not discipline her bunkmate. According to the academy’s account, he had burrowed deep under the covers and could not be identified. Said a spokesman: “We knew only that he had blond hair. When we called in her boy friend, who has blond hair, he denied the incident.” But Donnelly insists that everyone knew his identity and that officials pushed her into accepting a deal: if she quit, Lewis would be allowed to graduate.

After Lewis safely got his diploma last week, Donnelly voiced her bitterness: “They treated us differently. Either they should have dismissed both of us or let us both stay. I’m sort of the scapegoat.”

Maryland Senator Glenn Beall is investigating whether she was a victim of sex discrimination, which the academy flatly denies. Said Donnelly, who is still engaged to Lewis: “It seems like everything has gone down the drain. I’ll probably just get married and take whatever job I can get.”

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