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'Get Out': Air Force Academy Draws Red Line after Racist Graffiti

  • FILE -- Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., discusses his goals and priorities to an audience of Total Force Airmen at the Academy, Aug. 17, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Mike Kaplan)
    FILE -- Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., discusses his goals and priorities to an audience of Total Force Airmen at the Academy, Aug. 17, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Mike Kaplan)
  • Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, addresses racial slurs recently found at the Academy Preparatory School with Academy cadets, staff and faculty, Sept. 28 2017. (U.S. Air Force Photo)
    Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, addresses racial slurs recently found at the Academy Preparatory School with Academy cadets, staff and faculty, Sept. 28 2017. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

The superintendent of the Air Force Academy reacted swiftly to an incident in which racist graffiti was found in a dorm, telling cadets unable to treat peers with respect to "get out."

In a highly publicized address to 4,000 students and faculty, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria didn't parse words.

"If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out," he said. "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."

Silveria also cited recent racially charged events in the U.S., including the Charlottesville riots in which a woman was killed and others injured, as well as the ongoing protests in the NFL in which athletes are taking a knee during the national anthem.

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He added, "We would be naive to think we should not to discuss this topic. We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what's going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville [Virginia], and Ferguson, [Missouri], protests in the NFL."

Air Force officials are investigating the use of racial slurs written on a dormitory white board at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.

The words "go home n-----" were among the racist language found Monday on the message boards of five African American cadet candidates at the prep school, which sits on the the Air Force Academy grounds in Colorado Spring, Colo.

"If you're outraged by those words, then you're in the right place," the general said. "You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being."

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The prep school each year takes in approximately 240 students between 17 and 22 years old, according to its website. Classes start in late July, with a 10-month curriculum that focuses on four core areas: academics, military, athletics and character, the website says.

Silveria, standing alongside dozens of members from his Air Force Academy staff, faculty and the Academy's 10th Air Base Wing, said this is the time to call for better ideas.

The time for civil discourse is now, said Silveria, the former deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. For example, the dean of students has been talking with small groups of students about Charlottesville which Silveria said has showed promise, value and gives the students a glimpse into who "we are as an institution."

"No one can write on a board and question our values, no one can take that away from us," he said.

But the general also made his point loud and clear.

"Reach for your phones, I'm serious. Grab your phones. I want you to videotape this so you have it so you can use it. So that we all have the moral courage together. This is our institution. And if you need my words, then you keep these words. 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," Silveria said.

Video of the speech went viral. 'Gen. Jay Silveria' and the 'Air Force Academy' were trending topics on Twitter and Facebook early Friday, after video of Silveria's comments were shared by the official U.S. Air Force account, thereafter shared by politicians, celebrities and news outlets around the world.

The Academy's Prep School incident comes after top officers of each of the U.S. military services last month condemned racism and promoted unity following the deadly attack in Charlottesville.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, and Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller all weighed in on the attack following protests, which left a woman dead and others wounded.

The statements from the uniformed leaders were seen as somewhat unusual because the events in Charlottesville were not directly military-related.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.