U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A panel of Air Force Academy women took part in the Air Force Women’s Air and Space Power Symposium March 10 to discuss the service’s move toward diversity and inclusion.
The online symposium included featured senior officials, cadets and Airmen in conversations examining the link between diversity, inclusion and national security.
“There is an increase in critical conversations - especially gender issues - in the Air Force and military as a whole, Cadet 3rd Class Tracy Hsia said. “There are more and more service members coming together, using their voices, and pushing for meaningful change and gender equality.”
Hsia, Cadet 2nd Class Madelyn Duckworth, Cadet 1st Class Lauren Neilsen, Cadet 4th Class Eileen Zhao, and Maj. Kelly Atkinson, a political science professor, represented the Academy’s Schulte Assembly, named after 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, a 2006 Academy graduate killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2009. Atkinson moderated the assembly's conversation.
“Having these critical discussions that place an emphasis on the importance of thought, background, opinion and acknowledging worth in each individual’s perspective, enables Airmen to be more open and confident to use their voice,” Zhao said.
Neilsen said the Academy’s culture is not yet “conducive to empowerment or growth for all equally” but events like the symposium help level that balance.
“These events are extremely important because they provide cadets the chance to speak freely and honestly,” she said. “They also allow for the culture and climate of the Academy to be seen critically and provide necessary accountability to the institution.”
Duckworth said the panel and symposium gives voice to gender-issues the Air Force faces and fosters dignity and respect across the cadet wing.
“[They] highlight the importance of speaking about Academy-specific issues with an open mind to empower a growth mindset within each cadet,” she said. “We are in an institution that pressures cadets to check a box for sexual assault prevention and response training, mental health training, resilience days and etc. There is not enough focus on fostering an environment where cadets can truly care about and act upon these major concerns. It’s up to us as cadets and future military officers to foster an open environment for these discussions to truly make an impact within our culture.”
The week-long symposium was livestreamed.
“Our cadets offered ‘reverse mentoring’ to this incredible audience by sharing their perspectives and adding their voices to this cohort,” Atkinson said.
Hsia said participating in the Schulte Assembly and symposium familiarizes cadets with issues they’ll likely face as officers.
“Awareness is key and understanding that these issues prevail at all levels in the first step to real and positive change,” she said.
The symposium and the Schulte Assembly’s conversation was guided by Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Brown’s theme of “Accelerate Change or Lose,” and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond’s theme of “Lean, Agile and Mission Focused,”
“The collective message is that we are on the precipice of change,” wrote Tawanda Rooney, director of diversity and inclusion for the Air Force, and Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations, in the symposium’s welcome letter. “We must create an inclusive department for women to ensure we retain talent, institute inclusive policies that address readiness today, prepare our force for the next fight, and reflect the values of the U.S. population.”
The Schulte Assembly regularly meets to promote and discuss gender issues at the Academy.