The episode attracted national attention when Tracye Whitfield, the mother of one of the students, posted a photo on Facebook of the message, which paired the words âgo homeâ with a racial slur. âItâs a nerve-racking feeling,â Ms. Whitfield told a local news station in Colorado Springs, near where the academy is located.
The preparatory school, usually called the âprep school,â prepares candidates for admission to the academy proper. About 240 students, called âcadet candidates,â attend the school each year.
Though the slurs were discovered at the prep school, âit would be naÃ¯veâ to think the episode did not reflect on the academy and the Air Force as a whole, General Silveria said.
âSome of you may think that that happened down at the prep school and doesnât apply to us,â he said. âI would be naÃ¯ve, and we would all be naÃ¯ve, to think that everything is perfect here.â
He then explicitly linked the discovery of the slurs to events like the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists marched with torches in August, and Ferguson, Mo., where the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a police officer in 2014 set off protests across the country. He said that these events formed a backdrop that had to be addressed, and that to think otherwise would be âtone deaf.â
After calling for a civil discourse, he spoke of the power of various forms of diversity, evoking âthe power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, we come from all backgrounds, gender, all makeup, all upbringing.â
He added: âThis is our institution and no one can take away our values. No one can write on a board and question our values.â
General Silveria grew up in an Air Force family and graduated from the academy in 1985. It was announced in May that he would return to become superintendent, and in his first address to cadets, in August, he said that his defining values were ârespect and dignity.â
Toward the end of his remarks on Thursday, he referenced those values again, exhorting cadets to take out their phones and film his words so that they could remember, share and discuss them.
âIf you canât treat someone from another gender with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,â he said. âIf you demean someone in any way, you need to get out. If you canât treat someone from another race, or different color skin, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.â
The Air Force Academy has struggled to address different forms of discrimination in the past. In 2014, a Pentagon report found that sexual assault and harassment were widespread at the three military academies and that, of the 70 reported incidents in the 2012-2013 school year, almost two-thirds took place at the Air Force Academy. There were 32 reports of sexual assault at the school in the 2015-2016 school year, the Pentagon said, down from 49 the previous year.
The academy has also come under fire for religious intolerance and insensitivity. A 2005 Pentagon report found that there was a âperception of religious biasâ on campus as well as examples of improper proselytizing from both cadets and officers at the school.