On Monday, five black cadet candidates at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado found racial slurs scrawled on the message boards outside their dorm room. A mother of one of the targeted students posted a photo on social media showing the words “go home n*****r” written on the white board on her son’s door. In an interview with the Air Force Times, the father of another cadet candidate called the incident “utter stupidity” but said his son is coping well in the aftermath of the incident. In fact, he said the real victim in this situation is the person or persons who wrote the slurs.
“The real victim here is that individual [who wrote the slurs], because that individual is going to lose a promising career in the military,” he said. “That individual is going to go home disgraced. Him or her is the real victim, because they were raised with that kind of vitriol and that kind of hate. My son is not a victim, I don’t view him as a victim.”
USAFA has also been quick to condemn the derogatory act. On Thursday, the academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, called all 4,000 cadets to attention to address the incident. He did not mince words as he expressed his personal outrage and disgust and even encouraged those gathered to record his remarks on their phones so there would be no confusion as to where he, the academy, and the entire U.S. Air Force stand going forward.
Watch the remarks below:
Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria addressed the Cadet Wing and USAFA Preparatory School today and left no uncertainties that racism has no place at the Academy.
Posted by US Air Force Academy (Official) on Thursday, September 28, 2017
“You may have heard that some people down in the prep school wrote some racial slurs on some message boards,” the lieutenant began. “If you are outraged by those words, than you are in the right place. That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force.”
He went on to explain that the cadets should be outraged not only as Airmen but as human beings, for the only “appropriate response” to “horrible language” and “horrible ideas” is to offer up “better” ones. Drawing on the current climate of divisiveness in the country, Silveria pleaded with those gathered to not be “naive” and shy away from the difficult conversations and circumstances that currently confront them. Instead, he encouraged his faculty, staff, and students to step up to the plate and find solutions to the problems. He recounted a recent meeting the dean held with members of the school community in the wake of the deadly protests in Charlottesville as one such example.
That’s why we are all here. We have a better idea. Some of you may think that happened down in the prep school and doesn’t apply to us. We would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think that we shouldn’t discuss this topic. We would also be tone deaf to not think about the backdrop that is going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL. That’s why we have a better idea. One of those ideas: the dean brought people together to discuss Charlottesville because what we should have is a civil discourse and talk about these issues. That’s a better idea.
But even more important than simply reacting to events unfolding around the country and around the world, Silveria called on those in attendance to embrace the incredible environment they currently find themselves in. He praised the “power of the diversity” of race, gender, creed, and background that makes up USAFA and the Air Force at large and reminded those gathered that the dumb actions and narrow-mindedness of a few would not and could not tarnish their values or reputation as a whole.
But I also have a better idea, and it’s about diversity. It’s the power of the diversity. The power of the 4,000 of you, and all of the people that are on the staff tower and lining the glass, the power of us as a diverse group. The power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, from all backgrounds, gender, all make up, all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful. That is a much better idea than small thinking and horrible ideas. We have an opportunity here—5,500 people in this room—to think about what we are as an institution. This is our institution and no one can take away our values. No one can write on a board and question our values. No one can take that away from us.
Saving his most emphatic denunciation for last, Silveria concluded his remarks by reiterating that there is a zero tolerance policy for an individual who cannot treat a fellow human being with “dignity and respect.” And the superintendent had a simple message for anyone who does not feel as though they can comply: “get out.”
So just in case you are unclear on where you stand on this topic, I am going to leave you with my most important thought today: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. 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 a different race or with a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out… This is our institution. You keep these words, and you use them, and you remember them, and you share them, and you talk about them.
“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect,” he added one last time, “then get out.”