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This is the ideal environment to explore those leadership issues with open and transparent conversations."In a way, it’s been easier for Johnson and her colleagues than for university presidents to “tend to” students’ concerns because they’ve been building the scaffolding to do so for years.Where the University of Missouri only hired a chief diversity officer this year in response to protests, the academy created that position in 2010, and Johnson made sure it reports directly to the superintendent so that concerns can’t be filtered before they reach her.At the Pentagon, the Defense Department is looking for creative ways to fight an enemy that is less predictable and more amorphous.Both tasks require a delicate balance of preservation and evolution, of security and openness.At the academy, that has meant bringing sometimes-uncomfortable conversations about race into the open.The dialogue is structured in a way that both adheres to the military’s strict guidelines around acceptable conduct and recognizes that the 4,000 cadets that call the academy home each year are not cogs in a machine, but young American adults with opinions and values and connections to the world around them.
“It’s what our nation expects of us, so the scrutiny is strong and we need to be at the leading edge of things.”“We are trying to develop them into leaders,” Brigadier General Stephen Williams, the commandant of cadets (the dean of students, in civilian terms) added. You can’t lead a diverse group unless you learn how to work and integrate within a diverse group.But Johnson acknowledged that the absence of overt unrest does not mean the absence of discontent. After West Point, the Army’s service academy, said it would not punish 16 black female cadets who were photographed in early May with their arms raised in what many saw as a political statement, the Air Force Academy suggested it would behave similarly if confronted with such a demonstration.“The Air Force’s Academy is a training institution, teaching cadets how to appropriately raise concerns, understand perceptions and balance personal freedom with effective leadership,” Lieutenant Colonel Brus Vidal, the academy’s director of public affairs, wrote in an email.“Cadets will continue to navigate through situations and circumstances where judgment is an important aspect of leadership on active duty.“We try to broach it on a real human level and draw out what their concerns are …We’re not immune, being in uniform.” The focus on diversity is “embedded in many of the courses we teach,” said Brigadier General Andrew Armacost, the dean of faculty at the academy.