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The head of the Air Force Academy gathered 5,500 cadets, faculty, staff and cadet candidates Thursday to deliver a powerful message after racial slurs were found written on message boards at the academy’s preparatory school.
"If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out," Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria told the group at the culmination of a forceful five-minute lecture on the "power of diversity."
Five black cadet candidates at the Academy’s Preparatory School woke up Monday morning to messages saying “go home” followed by an anti-black slur, according to a statement released by the academy.
"If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place," Silveria told the group in an impassioned speech that was captured on video and shared widely on social media. “That kind of behavior has no place at the Prep School, it has no place at USAFA and has no place in the United States Air Force.”
"You should be outraged not only as an Airman, but as a human being," he said.
Silveria said that the staff of the Academy would be "tone deaf" if they did not see the racial slurs in the context of other recent events in the country, from Charlottesville to Ferguson and the protests in the National Football League.
He said that the military academy should strive for “civil discourse" and that its diversity "makes us that much more powerful."
The prep school offers an intense 10-month academic, military and athletic training program to approximately 240 men and women between the ages of 17 and 22, to prepare cadet candidates to earn an appointment to the academy. Attendance at the school, which is about six miles south of the main campus in Colorado Springs, helps a candidate’s chances of gaining an appointment to the elite service academy — but does not guarantee it.
Silveria was clear and emphatic that this was an opportunity for the Air Force Academy to be clear about defining its values.
"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 skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out."
He concluded his statement by encouraging those in attendance to pull out their phones and waited for them to do so.
"Grab your phones, I want you to video tape this so you have it, so you can use it. So we all have the moral courage together ... This is our institution. And if you need it and you need my words, then you keep these words and you use them and you remember them and you share them and you talk about them: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out."