In a poignant defense of equality, the United States Air Force Academy’s superintendent made it crystal clear that the institution will not tolerate any form of disrespectful behavior toward someone of another race or gender.
The Academy’s Preparatory School found racial slurs written on message boards of five African-American cadets, leading Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria to express his disgust to the Academy’s more than 5,000 cadets, faculty and staff in Colorado Springs.
“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” he said Thursday. “You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being.”
He asked people to “get out” if they’re incapable of displaying respect:
“If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”
We would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic.
Silveria said even though the incident happened at the prep school, everyone at the Academy should pay attention.
“We would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic,” he said. “We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country, things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL.”
He implored the room to respond to deplorable behavior with civil discourse. The power of diversity at the Academy, he added, should serve as another unifier. He noted the school’s efforts to bring people together by creating a forum through which to discuss the white supremacist rally that overtook Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, an activity that received “outstanding feedback.”
One of the targeted cadets is brushing off the incident, his father told the Air Force Times:
“The word has zero power in my house. Zero power. The word is not going to yield a reaction. My initial advice to him was, respond with intelligence, do not react, do not get upset. The real victim here is that individual [who wrote the slurs], because that individual is going to lose a promising career in the military.”
Security Forces are investigating the incident, Silveria told Academy leaders on Wednesday, and the Academy’s chief diversity officer is putting together small group discussions to continue the conversation.
“We don‘t always know what ‘right’ looked like for them in the families, schools and communities where they grew up,” his email said. “But once they arrive here and get immersed in the Air Force culture, it must be absolutely clear how we look out for and respect one another.”
UPDATE: Nov. 9 ― The Air Force said one of the cadets who appeared to be targeted by the racist messages had written all of them himself.
Silveria said his original speech was still relevant. “Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed,” he said in an email quoted by a local newspaper.