Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), addressed cadets on Thursday in a powerful speech about treating one another with “dignity and respect” after racial slurs were written outside five black Air Force cadet candidates’ dorm rooms.
One message—which was posted on Facebook by a young cadet candidate’s mom—read, “go home n**ger.”
“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 Thursday, the general addressed the incident head-on; during the roughly 5-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.
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, gender, all makeup, 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, than you need to get out.”
“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out,” Silveria repeated.