The top leader of the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) on Sept. 28 gathered all Academy personnel to tell them that he would not tolerate racist slurs at the school. The message from superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria came days after racist slurs were written on the dormitory message boards of five cadet candidates at the Academy’s Preparatory School.
The Air Force Times reported that the mother of one cadet candidate posted a picture of her son’s message board with the phrase “go home n****r” written on it.
“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” Silveria told USAFA personnel. “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.”
Silveria told the cadets, who were standing at attention as they listened to his remarks, to “reach for your phones” so they could record his next message. “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” Silveria said.
The Academy would “be tone deaf,” he said, “not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country” in terms of racial division. Silveria said the USAFA incident must be understood in light of “Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL.”
“The appropriate response for horrible language and horrible ideas,” Silveria said, “is a better idea.” That better idea, he said, begins with “a civil discourse” about dignity across racial lines, one that recognizes “the power of diversity.” He said this kind of discourse was already ongoing at USAFA, where “the dean brought people together to discuss Charlottesville.” The Academy, he said, “received outstanding feedback from that session.”
Despite condemning the racist actions at the Prep School, Silveria insisted that, “no one can take away our values.”
AFA President Larry Spencer said he was “saddened” to see the “very hurtful racial slurs. However, I was heartened to see the swift, direct, and unambiguous response by Lt. Gen. Silveria. I am an Airman for Life and there is no place in our ranks for bigotry and hatred. We are the best and most feared Air Force in the world because of the contributions of ALL airmen.”