Air Force Academy Preparatory School officials said this week that they had discovered racial slurs written on the dorm room white boards of five black cadets, according to the Air Force Times. The school’s public affairs director said that the incidents had come to their attention on Monday.
“This has come out of nowhere,” Lt. Col. Allen Herritage told the Washington Post. “We haven’t seen anything like this in recent times.”
According to the mother of one of the black cadets, someone had scrawled the words “go home n—-r” across her son’s message board.
“These young people are supposed to bond and protect each other and the country,” she wrote in Facebook post featuring a photo of the white board that has since been made private or deleted. “Who would my son have to watch out for? The enemy or the enemy?”
The Colorado Springs prep school is housed on the Air Force Academy campus and provides candidates — who are placed on active duty reserve — with a rigorous 10-month training program meant to prepare them to succeed academically at the Academy. Approximately 50 percent of the prep school students are minorities and 15 percent are women, according to the Academy’s site.
In a moving address to Air Force Academy cadets on Thursday, Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria stated that there was no place for racism within either school’s ranks and denounced intolerance in all forms.
“If you’re outraged by those words then you’re in the right place,” Silveria said. “That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged, not only as an airman, but as a human being.”
Silveria added that “what we should have is a civil discourse and talk about these issues” and referenced a recent forum hosted by the Dean of Faculty, during which cadets were encouraged to discuss a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia which left one counter-protester dead.
“We received outstanding feedback from that session on Charlottesville,” he said. “But I also have a better idea, and it’s about our diversity. …It’s the power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, that we come from all backgrounds, gender, all make-up, all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”
He added, “If you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”
Air Force Academy Security forces have said that they are investigating the incident.
The racially-charged incidents come as the Trump administration is making moves to quash diversity among military quarters by banning transgender members from serving.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump tweeted on July 26.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a briefing that day that the president had long been unhappy with the the Obama administration’s July 2016 decision to allow transgender individuals to serve in the military. “…This is a very expensive and disruptive policy, and based on consultation that he’s had with his national security team, [he] came to the conclusion that it erodes military readiness and unit cohesion, [and he] made the decision based on that,” she said.
The decision has been met with push-back, both among military brass and on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members on the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had advised Trump against the policy.
“I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards, and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving, should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” he said.
Earlier in the month, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a former naval aviator and POW, also co-sponsored a bill that would prevent the Trump administration from ejecting transgender members of the military, saying that anyone with the ability to serve should be afforded the right to do so.
In an email to Air Force Academy staffers this week, Lt. Gen. Silveria reiterated the importance of diversity, asking officials not to be afraid of broaching difficult topics when speaking with cadets.
“I would like us all to be engaging in these tough conversations, in a civil manner that spurs more discussion and reaches productive solutions,” he wrote. “…This discourse is how we grow and how we develop our future officers. …I want cadets to see that we take a united stand on the importance of respect and dignity as part of our Air Force way of life, and that we — espousing a diverse variety of backgrounds, expertise and viewpoints — are stronger together.”