Slurs prompt U.S. Air Force Academy head to call for racial tolerance

(Reuters) - Racial slurs were written in the dormitory of the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this week, prompting the head of the institution to tell students, faculty and staff that bigotry would not be tolerated.

The academy’s superintendent, Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, citing other highly publicized racial incidents, urged the school community to embrace diversity and laid out what was required of them.

“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out,” Silveria told the academy’s 4,000 cadets and staff in a five-and-a-half minute address, a video of which was posted on the school’s Facebook page.

To capture the moment, Silveria invited students to record his admonition using their phones.

The racial slurs were discovered this week on message boards outside the dormitory rooms of five black cadet candidates, according to a memo Silveria wrote on Wednesday to the academy’s staff that was also posted on Facebook.

The academy’s prep school, where the slurs appeared, is a 10-month program that gives about 240 students the chance each year to train and study to become full-fledged freshman cadets the following year.

Some students sent photos of the slurs, which the Air Force Times said included the N-word, to their parents, while some photos were posted on social media, Silveria said, adding that the academy was investigating the incident.

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The father of one of the five black cadet candidates told the Air Force Times that his son was doing fine following the incident, which he called “utter stupidity.”

“My initial advice to him was, respond with intelligence, do not react, do not get upset,” the father said.

In his address to students and staff, Silveria said there was no place for racism and bigotry at the institution.

“You should be outraged not only as an airman but as a human being,” he said.

Citing a march by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as silent protests by professional football players over police shootings, Silveria spoke of the benefits of diversity in society and academia.

“The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful,” he said.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum