By Scott Sturman
Over the past 15 years, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) has been controlled by activist superintendents who have led the institution into the realm of critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
In 2013, the first of these lieutenant generals, Michael Gould, established a pervasive DEI program that extended into every facet of cadet life. With great fanfare but without evidence, he extolled DEI as a military necessity and as important as academics. Supporters cited evidence from the financial services and management consulting sectors that found DEI beneficial. Still, the argument had no applicability to the military environment and did not justify the sudden transformation. Comprehensive studies from Harvard and Tel Aviv Universities of 800 companies spanning 30 years contradict this view and demonstrate that DEI programs frequently change attitudes and aggravate racial biases and hostilities.
A succeeding Superintendent, Jay Silveria, awkwardly handled a purported hate crime at the Air Force Academy Prep School. In a rush to judgment, he announced that anonymous racial slurs directed at a minority cadet proved that blatant racism was ubiquitous at USAFA. A cursory investigation concluded that the perpetrator and the victim were one in the same. Still, the superintendent ordered a full investigation to affirm his unwarranted suspicions that the academy was rife with systemic racism. His supposition proved false, but a lawsuit by Judicial Watch forced the academy to release the findings that categorically repudiated the general’s premise.
The current superintendent, Richard Clark, has overseen an acceleration of the academy’s DEI culture, as well as teaching and promoting CRT values to members of the Cadet Wing. Presentations on proper pronoun usage, proselytizing the radical anti-American views of George Takei, forcing cadets to attend secretive sexual orientation seminars, and racism directed against white male cadets define his command. In a self-serving interview sponsored by the Academy Association of Graduates, the general described DEI merely as a communications tool and avoided the historical evidence that identifies DEI as the practical application of CRT’s long march through educational institutions.
The installation of political officers within the ranks of the American military is a foreign concept. Anonymous accusations, psychological pressure, and relentless propaganda are formidable weapons to force compliance. USAFA instituted its version of political officers whose duties are to ensure compliance and purge nonconformists. 82 cadets and faculty and staff members serve as Diversity and Inclusion representatives, who are authorized to advise cadets on diversity at the academy. Each member displays a prominent purple rope worn over the left shoulder. The cadre reports parallel and outside the military chain of command from the squadron level to the academy’s DEI Chief. The potential for abuse of power and intimidation of cadets living in a structured military setting is reminiscent of Orwell’s Thought Police and the political commissars of the Soviet military era.
The academy administration remains opaque and indifferent to efforts to determine the extent and details of DEI and CRT indoctrination at USAFA. According to Colonel Ron Scott (USAF, ret.), President of the education organization Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services, Inc. (STARRS), of 36 Freedom of Information Act requests filed, 26 remain open, and only one response answered the question. When the public occasionally sees abusive behavior occurring at the academy, it is often directed against white male cadets.
Cassandra Benson teaches economics at the Air Force Academy. During a lecture given in January 2023, the Friday before Martin Luther King Day, she addressed minority cadets by their proper names. Still, she declared she would refer to white cadets by a number since in her opinion, all white people look alike. White Boy #2 is the son of one of my USAFA classmates. When he learned of his son’s altercation, he contacted Superintendent Clark. He was initially disbelieving but reassured him that he would get the Dean of Academics, Brigadier General Linell Letendre, about the incident.
White Boy #2 subsequently met with Ms. Benson and the head of the Department of Economics. Despite the gravity of the situation, the dean was not present at this conference, where Ms. Benson offered a halfhearted explanation for her rude behavior. The department head dismissed her from the room and apologized to White Boy #2 for Ms. Benson’s deplorable behavior.
After the incident, Dean Letendre attended an Association of Graduates Board of Directors (AOG/BOD) meeting ostensibly to discuss CRT indoctrination of cadets and was asked about Ms. Benson’s unprofessional, racist antics. The dean responded that this was the first time she had heard of the event, although in a hierarchical military academic setting, it seems peculiar that General Clark would communicate directly to a department head and bypass the dean on a matter of such sensitivity. As of this date, Ms. Benson has not been dismissed from her position, and it is unknown if she has received a formal reprimand.
The experience of White Boy #2 is not an isolated event; he has had to bear the brunt of other CRT related character attacks from superior officers. In a leadership class taught by Colonel Melissa Youderian, White Boy #2 was asked to explain his white privilege. In this version of a perp walk, what did the colonel expect him to say about a situation over which he has no control? To the young man’s credit, he explained that he, like all the other cadets in the room, was privileged to attend the Air Force Academy and could serve his country. The colonel remained unresponsive and incredulous but extracted vengeance by awarding his courage and forthrightness with a “C” grade in a class where performance is measured not by test scores but by whim.
The layers of protection afforded cadets against destructive, racist behavior are distributed unevenly in accordance with the tenets of identity politics and restorative justice. The academy administration, which is heavily invested in the DEI/CRT ideology, cannot be counted upon as a fair arbitrator when judging human rights abuses. It is left to related but exterior organizations to insist on proper safeguards and remedies.
The Board of Visitors (BOV) is an independent group of experts and dignitaries appointed to inquire into pertinent matters at the U.S. military academies independently. Oversight prevents abuses and offers the public an unimpeded assessment of prevailing concerns. At the beginning of the Biden Presidency, BOVs at all military academies were suspended, all Trump appointees were dismissed en masse, and subcommittees were created with non-BOV members to ensure unanimity of opinion. The BOVs have been reinstated, but litigation (STIRRUP vs. U.S. DOD) challenging the actions and mechanisms employed to destroy the impartiality of the BOVs is under review at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The AOG/BOD’s primary task is to serve the 50,000 members of the graduate community—not the USAFA administration. The AOG/BOD rigidly controls the editorial content of the organization’s quarterly magazine, Checkpoints, one of the few ways the graduate community can communicate about matters at USAFA. Publishing articles contrary to the approved DEI narrative of the academy administration is often unsuccessful and ultimately leaves graduates with only one side of the story and unaware of the academy’s serious challenges.
USAFA is becoming more akin to its civilian counterparts. According to U.S. News’ Best College Rankings, USAFA’s national ranking in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category improved from #39 to #18 from 2020 to 2022. Currently, civilians constitute 42% of the academic department, none of whom take the Oath of Office to support and defend the Constitution.
As USAFA deviates from its traditional mission to train career officers and persists in intimidating and persecuting white males for crimes based on identity politics and Neo-Marxist distortions, the public may soon tire of providing an expensive, woke education when ROTC and OTS programs can deliver more qualified candidates at a fraction of the cost.
Scott Sturman is the President of the USAFA Class of 1972.
Published today in Real Clear Defense