U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Survivors of sexual assault gathered at the U.S. Air Force Academy this week to collaborate with leaders and subject matter experts on how to not only survive an assault, but to thrive in its wake.
“For the victims who are here, I’m sorry, I’m sorry for what happened to you,” said Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Academy superintendent, to survivors attending the Air Force Academy’s Pathways to Thriving summit April 10, 2018. “I’m terribly sorry as the face of this institution … but I’m exceedingly grateful that you came, this has been so inspiring in so many ways.”
This first ever summit for survivors was held to include sexual assault survivors in the discussion on where the Academy has been and how it moves forward, according to organizer Dr. Kimberly Dickman, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program manager at USAFA.
The two-day summit included a wide-variety of presenters who discussed topics ranging from the neurobiology of healing and mindfulness to the institutional response and procedures that occur when an assault is reported.
“But more importantly, we built in several hours for attendees to brainstorm with each other and I think that was the value of getting them all in the room together,” Dickman said. “These working groups were tasked with coming up with improvements to our current SAPR efforts and presenting those ideas to leadership for implementation.”
The sessions were closed to the media to protect the privacy of survivors and at the same time promote open dialogue and free exchange of ideas on a topic often hard to discuss. The audience included current cadets and cadets from as far back as the 1970’s as well as social workers, psychologists and sexual assault experts. This exchange of ideas is crucial to Silveria.“I talk about better ideas a lot in my role as superintendent, whether those ideas have to do with academic schedules or how we engage the community or how we help solve the Air Force’s pilot shortage,” Silveria said. “But I can think of no better place where the power of better ideas can make a difference than in the area of sexual assault prevention and response.”
Silveria closed the summit with a blunt assessment of the issue of sexual assault.
“We all know we have a problem,” he said. “If we have one sexual assault that is a problem and I’m committed to confronting this problem and taking it on directly like having summits, meeting with survivors. I’m absolutely committed to that. This is foundational that we must treat each other with respect and dignity.”