Air Force Academy Leader Addresses Racist Writing
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Lieutenant General Jay Silveria received a lot of attention when he stood up before his 4,000 cadets and 1,500 staff members at the U.S. Air Force Academy and said...
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
JAY SILVERIA: If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.
SIMON: General Silveria's head of that academy. And he spoke after racial slurs were written on the message boards of five African-American cadets at the prep school. The N-word and the message, get out had been scrawled on the dry erase boards outside their dorm rooms. General Silveria joins us now from Colorado Springs. Thanks so much for being with us.
SILVERIA: Absolutely. My pleasure, Scott - good to talk to you.
SIMON: And why did - what moved you to speak out so bluntly, directly?
SILVERIA: Well, I wanted to make it very clear to the cadets and also the cadet candidates at the prep school that this kind of language, this kind of thought is reprehensible, that it's disgusting. And I wanted that to come to the cadets in a very unambiguous way. I wanted to make it very clear.
SIMON: You also mentioned Charlottesville and Ferguson and the protests in the NFL. Why did you think it was important to talk about events in the outside world, too?
SILVERIA: Well, I mentioned those because, as I said when I talked to the cadets, that we would be tone-deaf not to think that this kind of incident at our prep school - that it takes place within the backdrop of what's going on around the nation. So we would be tone-deaf not to recognize that there are other incidents going on.
SIMON: To what degree do the people who teach at the Air Force Academy talk about the outside world - not just military matters which, obviously, they're there to learn about - but the social context of this country?
SILVERIA: Our dean of faculty has a program that we call Critical Conversations where we bring groups together to talk about those issues that we see everyday in our society. This is a country that our cadets have signed up to defend. So it's important that we have those conversations about what's going on in our nation.
SIMON: Is racism a problem at the Air Force Academy?
SILVERIA: Racism is not a problem at the Air Force Academy. Somebody that decided to put hateful speech and someone that clearly is thinking small and someone that does not embrace our values as an Air Force Academy or as the United States Air Force decided to write something on a message board. And writing something on a message board is not going to take away our values or threaten our institution.
SIMON: General, may I ask, without giving away anything you've discovered, do you know who wrote those messages?
SILVERIA: We do not know who wrote those. The investigation is ongoing. We are fairly certain at this point based on handwriting that one person did write on the boards, but the investigation continues right now as we speak.
SIMON: I appreciate, General, that this is a question that might put you in a difficult spot. But a lot of people who have acclaimed your speech have drawn a contrast with a speech they haven't heard from the White House following, for example, the events in Charlottesville. I wonder how you react to that?
SILVERIA: Well, Scott, the reason that I gave the speech to these cadets is to talk to them directly about the power of diversity. These are unbelievable young men and women who have signed up to serve our nation. And they're going to be leaders in the Air Force. They're going to be officers, and they're going to lead airmen in the battlefield. And so I wanted to make it clear that they have to consider diverse thought and diverse ideas. So my speech was for them. My speech was for them, and it was supported by my amazing faculty and staff and coaches. That was the audience that I was going after.
SIMON: Lieutenant General Jay Silevria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy - thank you very much, General, for your service and your speech.
SILVERIA: Thank you very much Scott.
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