Military and Police

Racial Graffiti Found at US Air Force Academy Prep School, Air Force Makes Bold Statement Condemning

“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.”

Kudos to Lieutenant General Jay B. Silveria for immediately jumping in and taking swift action relative to these totally unacceptable racial slurs written on the dormitory room message boards of five black cadet candidates at the US Air Force Academy Preparatory School (located adjacent to the prestigious US Air Force Academy) in Colorado Springs, CO.

One message—which was posted on Facebook by a young cadet candidate’s mom—read, “Go home n**ger.”

“This is why I’m so hurt!” the mother said in her post, which was at first public but then taken offline Thursday. “These young people are supposed to bond and protect each other and the country. Who would my son have to watch out for? The enemy or the enemy?”

In an interview with Air Force Times, that cadet candidate’s father said his son is doing fine in the wake of the racial slur incident, which he called “utter stupidity.”

“The word has zero power in my house,” his father said. “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. You don’t have to defend intelligence, you don’t have to defend common sense, you don’t have to defend confidence. He’s fine.”

His father also said he felt the academy was taking the right steps to handle the incident―though he lamented that it will inevitably turn into a big deal and that it doesn’t reflect on the academy and its staff as a whole.

LTG Silveria, superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, addressed cadets on Thursday, September 28, in a powerful speech about treating one another with “dignity and respect.”

“There is absolutely no place in our Air Force for racism,” Silveria told the Air Force Times, adding, “I‘ve said it before: the area of dignity and respect is my red line. Let me be clear, it won’t be crossed without significant repercussions.”

And clear he was. In a speech Silveria gave to Air Force cadets, the general addressed the incident head-on; during the roughly five-minute lecture; the superintendent resoundingly denounced racism and demonstrated the kind of moral clarity one would expect from a leader.

“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” Silveria said of the racist graffiti. “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.”

“You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being,” he added.

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

Silveria noted the incident occurred in the context of fraught racial tensions in the United States as a whole. “We would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic,” he said. “We’d 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.”

“What we should have is a civil discourse and talk about these issues,” Silveria suggested. “That’s a better idea.”

“I also have a better idea, and it’s about our diversity,” he continued. “And it’s the power of the diversity … 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 county, that we come from all races, all backgrounds, genders, all makeups, all upbringings. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”

“We have an opportunity here to think about what we are as an institution,” Silveria said. “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.”

He called upon his cadets to find the “moral courage” to stand up for those values.

“So just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic, I’m going to leave you with my most important thought today,” he said. “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 another race, or a different color of skin, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out,” Silveria repeated.

Dr. Katherine Harris

Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is an OpsLens contributor, a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany.
Academically, Dr. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from The University of Maryland European Division, a Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, and a Doctorate in Education from Rowan University with an emphasis in leadership and higher education in a global context.

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