Head of U.S. Air Force Academy to students: Treat people with dignity and respect or 'get out'

Cadets during a commencement ceremony at the United States Air Force Academy.
Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post | Getty Images
Cadets during a commencement ceremony at the United States Air Force Academy.

On Monday five cadet candidates at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School found the words "go home n*****r" written on the whiteboards outside of their dorm room. According to the Air Force Times, one cadet candidate's mother shared an image of the board on Facebook, writing, "This is why I'm so hurt! These young people are supposed to bond and protect each other and the country."

On Thursday, superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria addressed the academy's student body with a clear message: Treat people with dignity and respect, or get out.

"That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, has no place at USAFA and has no place in the United States Air Force," he said. "You should be outraged not only as an airman but as a human being."

Silveria stood on a stage with faculty, staff, athletic coaches and Air Force personnel to condemn the language, saying, "The appropriate response for horrible language and horrible ideas — the appropriate response is a better idea," he said. "What we should have is a civil discourse and talk about these issues. That's a better idea."

The lieutenant general contextualized the issue, explaining, "We would be naive to think that we shouldn't discuss this topic. We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what is going on in our country — things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL."

Embracing the power of diversity is a "better idea" and a principal value of the United States Air Force, says Silveria. "We have an opportunity here, 5,500 people in this room, to think about who 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."

He ended by re-emphasizing that the USAFA would not tolerate these kinds of racist acts.

"Just in case you are unclear on how I stand on this topic, I'm 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."

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