In light of recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale University and other colleges around the country, I’d like to talk for a moment about respect, our values and who we are as leaders in our profession.
At the heart of these events which have made national headlines are racially insensitive and derogatory remarks and actions toward a particular group of students and institution’s perceived failure to properly address those grievances.
It would be naive to think that similar issues and tensions could not or would not occur here at West Point either within the Corps of Cadets or among our staff and faculty.
In the profession of arms we take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and it is the Constitution that puts us in a subordinate relationship to our civil authorities who represent the American people. Said another way, the American people are our client and our sacred duty is to stand in the gap between America and the evil that threatens it.
Performing this duty requires us as leaders to not only represent and protect all of America regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation, but to build teams that we would lead in order to accomplish this mission. That is what leaders do. They build teams across all diverse elements where everyone is respected, everyone is valued, everyone is contributing, and everyone feels secure, both emotionally and physically.
The diversity of the organizations we lead contribute to the strength of the unit. Leveraging it leads to better teaching and learning, problem solving and organizational readiness across the spectrum. It provides the unique talents of many individuals to the betterment of the whole.
As you know, in this great nation we have all come from all walks of life, different backgrounds and belief systems. Accordingly we will have differences of opinions. But when handled in a respectful and positive way, our differences provide an opportunity for us to grow as leaders and serve to strengthen the bonds between us.
Racist behavior is about a lack of respect, where one individual or group thinks they are better than another. We are all one team, working together to serve our nation and accomplish the mission, regardless of our different attributes, experiences, and backgrounds.
Racially motivated behavior has no place at this Academy or within the Army. It is contrary to West Point’s ideals of Duty, Honor, Country, and the Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage.
This is what we expect of leaders of character. Whether you’re leading right now within the Corps, leading a platoon after graduation, or teaching cadets in the classroom, your character will be reflected in your leadership. Treating others with dignity and respect, and living the Army’s values, are key to good leadership, cohesion, and teamwork. It’s what our client – the American people – expect of us, and it is the right thing to do.
As your Superintendent, I am committed to an organization where everyone, regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation, is treated with dignity and respect. I will also not tolerate racial, ethnic, or any other type of discrimination or exploitation. It not only undermines who we are but violates our values as well as creates divisiveness and abhorrent climates. There is no place for this here at West Point or in our Army.
Building and maintaining a positive command climate is a total team effort. It is essential that we police ourselves to ensure our actions and behaviors contribute to a positive climate of respect and inclusiveness. And if you see something, say something.
It is also important that grievances are identified, raised and discussed. Use your chain of command, company respect representatives and equal opportunity advisors to voice your concerns. But do not remain silent in the face of discrimination. Part of my commitment to a positive command climate is ensuring we address grievances appropriately.
Together, by holding ourselves and those around us accountable to a higher standard and treating each other with dignity and respect, we can and will maintain a positive command climate and set the example for others to emulate.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you.
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr.