‘If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, get out!’

Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, who runs the Air Force Academy, conducted a clinic on Thursday for any leader on how to respond to racial and sexual harassment.

Racial slurs were found on the message boards of five African-American cadets at the Academy’s prep school this week.

Silveria ordered all the cadets to a meeting, and then he rained hell on them.

“We come from all walks of life,” he said. “We come from all parts of this country. We come from all races. We come from all backgrounds, gender, all makeup, all upbringings. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”

One of the victims’ father told Air Force Times the message scrawled on the message board, “go home n*****r” , will not affect his son.

“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.”

[Update 11/8/17] — The messages were written by an African American cadet, according to a statement from the Air Force Academy.

“We can confirm that one of the cadet candidates who was allegedly targeted by racist remarks written outside of their dorm room was actually responsible for the act. The individual admitted responsibility and this was validated by the investigation. Racism has no place at the academy, in any shape or form.”

  • Jack

    //“I‘ve said it before, the area of dignity and respect is my red line,” Silveria said. “Let me be clear, it won’t be crossed without significant repercussions. Diversity is a strength of our academy and our Air Force. We are stronger when we take into account the views of those with different backgrounds and life experiences.”// (From the linked article)

    Well said. We should all take the last sentence to heart.

  • When someone uses a racial slur, people make assumptions about them. Like someone walking into a room smelling of BO, such a person does not elicit positive opinions. The remedy is the same in both situations – tell the offender that they need to clean up their act.

  • KTFoley

    Sometimes we need leaders like Coach Popovich, sometimes we need leaders like Lt. Gen. Silveria.

    Today we need them all.

  • rosswilliams

    “Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, who runs the Air Force Academy, conducted a clinic on Thursday for any leader on how to respond to racial and sexual harassment.”

    I don’t see much evidence that fiery speeches are going to change anyone’s behavior. So if this is a clinic, its a clinic on PR that will grab media attention. The real question is what he is going to do to find and punish the cadets responsible.

    • slycivilian

      Given that the offenders were high school cadets, I doubt we will know for sure. Addressing the overall environment for the better means more than an arbitrary hammer on an incident that manages to make the news.

      • Bob Sinclair

        Umm…these are college students at the AF academy. And its not like anyone can get into that establishment.

        • rosswilliams

          Good point. He ought to be reviewing their admissions process to figure out how these folks slipped in.

        • slycivilian

          Edit: mea culpa. It is a prep-program but not quite high school. They must be 17-22. But they are not the cadets who must be nominated by elected officials. They can be deferred admissions to the academy proper, enlisted airmen, or simply from a disadvantaged background. They are “cadet candidates” but not “cadets” as Academy enrollees are called.

          • rosswilliams

            @slycivilian Thanks for that clarification. I think that does change the nature of the appropriate response. It also makes this a poor clinic. A “clinic” would have been to simply close the program for this year and bar the participants from being admitted to the academy. That would have sent a very clear message that the air force actually considered this kind of behavior a threat to the institution.

          • slycivilian

            So, punish the cadet candidates who were targeted with ethic slurs? For me, I think “don’t ever walk past this” and “we have a better way” is a much stronger message than “don’t get caught saying this” and “because I say so.” But I will entirely grant that poor follow through would vitiate what was accomplished in this speech.

          • rosswilliams

            “So, punish the cadet candidates who were targeted with ethic slurs?”

            Obviously no.

            ” think “don’t ever walk past this” and “we have a better way” is a much stronger message than “don’t get caught saying this”

            My point is largely that actions are much stronger than any words. The purpose of the collective punishment is to send a message that we don’t tolerate this and won’t tolerate anyone who does tolerate it. It makes it clear that cadets are responsible not only for their own actions, but for intervening to prevent others. That might be a clinic. A strong public statement of disapproval is more like the bare minimum that should be expected.

        • slycivilian

          Click through to the Air Force times article. Extended program description is there. Clear they are not yet admitted to the Academy proper.

      • rosswilliams

        I am not criticizing the speech or its impact on the Air Force academy’s culture. What I am suggesting is talk is cheap. Talk alone is not a “clinic” on how to respond to this kind of activity. What is required is ruthlessly tracking down the perpetrators and kicking them and their enablers out of the academy.

        • Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

          • rosswilliams

            No, but a “clinic” on how to respond needs to include both. There is nothing above that would indicate the general has done anything about the second part. Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t. It may not be as interesting a story.

  • slycivilian

    I think what seemed most on about his speech was it called bystanders off the bench: made it their watch to keep. Nor did he hide behind his authority (there was more substance than ‘because I say so’) but didn’t forget it either (offering students the cover or the fury of his words depending on their position).