Yesterday, Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, addressed the Cadet Wing at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory school. The purpose of the address was to discuss racial slurs written on the doors of African-American cadets. A potentially uncomfortable topic for some leaders to address head-on.
The Lieutenant General began his speech by addressing the issue head-on. He was clear that the incident happened on his watch, and that the cadets should expect to hear news like this from him. He said "some people down at the prep school, wrote some racial slurs on some message boards. If you hadn't heard that, I wanted you to hear it from me."
He was also very clear that it wouldn't be tolerated "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."
Not only did he embrace his own accountability. He also addressed the moral accountability of all the cadets. Continuing, "some of you may think that that happened down in the prep school, and doesn't apply to us. I would be naive, and we would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think that we shouldn't discuss this topic."
He pointed to the current cultural climate in our country head-on. Stating "we would 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."
Urgency and Necessity
Accentuating the urgency of this situation by pointing out the leadership in the room with the cadets. He led by showing them that the leadership of the institution was there, in the room.
The Lieutenant left no room for interpretation of his words. He was urgent, forceful and clear. He provided the cadets with rails to latch onto and guide them forward as an institution.
The Lieutenant offered a call to action. Instead of succumbing to racism and bigotry, for the cadets and staff to strive for something better. Greater than themselves. Stating that "no one can write on a board, and question our values, no one can take that away from us."
Stating that it's their diversity that makes them more powerful. "It's the power of the diversity, the power of the four thousand of you, and all of the people that are on the staff tower, and lining the glass. The power of us as a diverse group." Stating that this power is "a much better idea than small thinking."
The Lieutenant was cognizant that his words may potentially be misinterpreted. So he went out of his way to reiterate his core message.
"If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. If you can't treat can't treat someone from another gender whether that's a man or a woman with respect then you need to get out. And if you can't treat someone from another race with dignity and respect then you need to get out."
At the conclusion of his speech, and to add further clarity of his message he requested that cadets, staff, and faculty pull out their phones to record him.
"Grab your phones, I want you to videotape this so that you can have it, so that you can use it. So that we all have the moral courage together. All of us on the staff tower lining the glass, all of us in this room. 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."
Watch the full speech here.