Expectancy Theory and Same Race Role Models
Similar to the lack of connections with their peer group, often minority students also have few social connections with their instructors. While professionalism of both the student and instructor is usually a complete non-issue, the subliminal and unintentional effects of this situation are still relevant to this topic. Again, based upon proven general psychology and sociology, individuals that possess shared levels of identity are more likely to have positive relationships and interactions. In the UPT (and the greater military) environment of strong superior-subordinate relationships, this lack of commonality *may* manifest itself by minority groups not receiving the benefit of the doubt, superiors possessing less initiative in offering assistance/mentorship, and other sub-surface, non-deliberate, unrecognized behaviors (collectively identified as “unconscious biases”). (Ruffin, 2017)
The importance to the students of instructors and leaders that were of the same race stood out in the surveys. Though the importance varied among the students (I believe based on their prior experience operating in a majority culture), it was definitely a factor that most of the pilots surveyed believed could contribute to their success in SUPT. It is also clear from the surveys that the lack of same race instructors and leaders increased the belief that students would experience some degree of unfairness and inequity.
In “Black Ceiling” I presented part of an interview with Lieutenant General John D. Hopper Jr. former Vice Commander, Air Education and Training Command (AETC/CV). I asked him about the benefit of same race role models in Air Force pilot training. He stated that having black IPs in the “flight meetings,” where they discussed how to help the students that were doing poorly, was part of the success.
Lt Gen Hopper further commented that in many cases minority students were uncomfortable asking for help, and had a tough time with acculturation, navigating a majority culture. He said this was important for two reasons: First, he said that pilot training success was largely dependent on group study. Additionally, attending the gatherings, be it the officers club on Friday nights or anywhere else, was a key factor to being successful in pilot training because it was there that young trainees got together with IPs and other authority figures to pick up the hints, the things that made “the water smoother.” He said that minorities typically miss out on these forums.
It easy to see from Lt Gen Hopper’s comments that a student’s success in pilot training could be directly affected by that student’s ability to thrive in a group study environment and mingle within social settings after hours to get the extra nuggets/tidbits on how to get through pilot training.
It is also easy to see how a minority student who felt uncomfortable in operating in a majority environment, particularly in social settings, which is arguably a different skill than operating in a work setting, might benefit from being able to find a same race instructor at the club to talk to.
In the interviews that follow nearly every respondent felt that it would be “nice” or beneficial, to have an instructor or leader of the same race. As it pertains to self-efficacy, the need for this same race mentor/role model varied in the student’s perceived importance to completing pilot training. As stated numerous times I believe the variance is due to the degree of previous experience that the student has had operating in a majority environment.
In your opinion, does it make a difference, regarding your success, how many other black pilots are going through training at the same time as you? Why or why not?
Yes it does make a difference in some cases…and in others it will not. Working together as a team means a great deal in Air Force Pilot training. Later, in my career, I was a Flight Commander in UPT...the lead flight instructor in pilot training...and I saw some students wash out because they did not work together or had somehow placed themselves out of the circle of study; which is very much needed. I played and worked in that circle when I was going through as needed. But I typically went home to San Antonio (my training base was in Del Rio, Tx some 140 miles from Sam Antonio) on the weekends and did not have time to participate in weekend studies. But I had established a social network that allowed me to interact when needed. I actually did not interact very much with the other blacks except at the bar on Fridays...I was too busy studying! But knowing they were there did allow for a certain comfort. I also was able to talk with a few black instructors...that helped A LOT!...Yes…reference above answer. I never had a black instructor personally. But there is one black instructor who would check in on me, while I was in Air Force pilot training. Just his presence was enough…and his caring enough to ask how I was doing. (1989 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. In my case, I haven’t had any trouble in this area, but it’s always nice having a few people who look like you in charge. (2017 SUPT student)
I do feel a heightened sense of pride when I see men and women of color in leadership positions, but I don’t expect anything different from them or suspect that they will act a certain way just because they are a minority like myself. (2005 SUPT student)
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. 3-4 black instructors at the base. Some of the black IPs were my upperclassmen from USAFA and a couple were not. Both schooled me on keeping my act tight regardless of how the white students acted. (2005 SUPT student)
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. The one black 38 IP took me on my student cross country and he is who I called when I needed help throughout the program. (2003 SUPT student)
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. When my IPs were clearly trying to wash me out even though I was doing well, there was an IP on base who was a Major. Although he wasn't in my flight/squadron, he kept himself updated on my situation. When things got really tough with my IPs, he stepped in and had a talk with a few of them one-on-one and his rank actually mattered. If he wasn't there, I WOULD NOT be a pilot in the USAF. Huge shout out to Maj Leon Butler. (2002 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. When I went through pilot training, there was only one black pilot instructor and he was on the T-38 side. After track select, I went T-1s, so I saw the guy around but never had any meaningful conversation with him. Examples to model yourself after are always beneficial. It wasn’t until I was on my first deployment that I ever saw another black female pilot. I only met a total of 3 other black female pilots during my entire career. For some perspective, I spent just under 10 years on active duty before transferring to the reserves. I currently have 20 years of service. (1998 SUPT student)
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. They actively looked out for us and checked on us.
(1996 SUPT student)
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. 5-6 black instructors at the base. The black IPs all knew my brother. They all made it a point to reach out to me and offer assistance. They all said not to wait to ask for help. Many of the FAIPs were USAFA or UPT classmates of my brother who was well-liked/respected. I had more than a few people "looking out" for me. This was not like most black UPT students. (1990 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. It makes a big difference! Even though it is not a training example. When I worked at AMC HQ, the AMC/CC and the Reserve IMA two star were AA (one was AA and female!) It reached me to my core—the fact that they were AAs and such good leaders. It was a big boost! In the training environment, it would have the same effect. I encountered but rarely flew with the AA instructors in UPT. It was nice to at least know that they were there supporting me, even if they were in different flights. There were several things that truly helped during UPT. The AA instructor corps developed an unofficial mentoring program where they kept an eye on us. Also, I had an AA female student who was six months ahead of me. It really helped to have her there. (1991 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference, regarding your success, how many other black pilots are going through training at the same time as you? Why or why not? No, but it’s sure nice. I was a captain, so I always checked up on the Black students who I noticed in training. I remember this one brother, “Everything’s fine,” all the time. One week I saw him, stopping him before he headed outside to ask how things were going; he was about to fly his “89” ride which, if he failed, would eliminate him from the program. I had just seen him not ten days earlier and all was well, supposedly. He said he was too embarrassed to say anything, but on the eve of an 89, it’s a bit too late for help because you’re either going to get a reprieve or pack for home. He failed, and I never saw him again. I will also say it was nice to see Black instructor pilots (I can think of five at my base). There were no Black women instructors, but the base had three or four women instructors that I can recall (out of about 200). The guys definitely checked on me, but no women did; I saw it as my duty, being a senior-ranking student, to check on all Black students coming behind me, and I did to the best of my ability. (1991 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. Absolutely! I found there to be an inherent bias by some of the training cadre who may have had a difficult time getting accepted into UPT themselves or had friends who were not accepted. Although white males often make up more than 90% of the instructors, there were definitely a number who felt Black pilots were given a handout and didn’t deserve being there. I guess 90% was still not enough… There were also those who were raised in an environment where they were insensitive to cultural diversity. These are the types of biases that factor into SOME instructors making things more difficult for UPT students that didn’t look like them…Professionally, however, I found UPT to be a relatively level playing field. I think a large part of that had to do with the fact that General “Fig” Newton was the Wing Commander. He was the only black Wing Commander at the time, who happened to be a past member of the Thunderbirds, and many of the black pilots from AFA chose to go there solely due to his presence. The mantra at the time was, “Go to Vance to have a chance.” (1990 SUPT student)
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. Col "Fig" Newton set the example and made others accountable for their decisions. (1990 SUPT student)
Was there black leadership at your wing? Wing CC.
How was your pilot training experience impacted by the presence of black instructors or black leadership? Please explain. Positive impact. As stated before, motivation from someone who went through what I was going through. (1990 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. I believe if the leadership team is cognizant of your race, are respectful and communicates accordingly, it doesn’t matter. To see someone of your own race in that position is uplifting, however, I would very much appreciate a leader, not of my race who is aware of who I am and treats everyone equally juxtaposed to someone of my race who is out for themselves at my expense. (1988 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. Really depends. If every leader or instructor is FAIR and evaluates according to the syllabus or course guidelines, it should not matter. It is always nice for minorities to see examples of fellow minorities reach positions of authority, but it still comes down to individuals performing. (1985 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Any specific examples from your experience. The environment we are raised in, our upbringing and belief system makes a big difference how we will function in a training cadre or interface with a leadership team. The other significant difference in the racial demographic make-up is the belief system of the members of the training cadre or leadership team. If the team or leaders are racially motivated it certainly is beneficial to a check and balance system with a racial mix of people in the demographics. An example is in 1971 when I was qualifying to move from enlisted to officer through the Airmen Education and Commissioning Program (AECP). In 1971 the Airman Education and Commissioning Program (AECP) offered active duty U.S. Air Force enlisted personnel the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree while being assigned to an Air Force ROTC detachment at a 4-year institution before attending Officers Training School (OTS) at Medina Annex at Lackland AFB, TX. One of the requirements was a letter of endorsement by airman’s commander. I asked my Maintenance Commander for an endorsement letter and his response was: “Sorry, I can’t endorse a negro to be an officer because all negroes are lazy and slubbering.” My response was a polite “thank you, sir”. I left his office and went to the Operations Commander who gladly wrote me a glowing endorsement letter. Again, how a person responds is based on their belief systems, their self-worth, confidence, courage, and desire. My maintenance unit had several minorities in the demography. Both commanders were White with obvious different upbringings. There is a greater comfort level with more minorities in a group and a higher probability that someone will speak out against injustice, however, the institutional racism has not been addressed nor the individual biases. (1973 SUPT student)
In your opinion, does it make a difference what the racial demographic of your training cadre or leadership team is? Why or why not? Please share any specific examples from your experience. It does not make a difference for my performance. However, it would have made a difference in treatment. If there were blacks at the time in a leadership role some of the events that happened to me during training would not have occurred. For example, I had one instructor pilot that refused to fly with me. I had my grades lowered twice after an evaluation because the instructor thought the grades I initially received placed me too high in the class standings in his opinion. A black leadership team would have prevented that too. That one grade made a difference of graduating number 3 vs number 1. (1972 SUPT student)
I can’t figure out where it came to a decision that all of the whites got out and the blacks took over completely. But it was a long time before my class. It was all black instructors and these guys they were probably I would say tougher than the whites probably were. Because they wanted to make sure that whoever they passed through they knew what the heck they were doing. (1944 Lt Col Robert Ashby, Original Tuskegee Airman)
These survey responses highlight the connection between self-efficacy and same-race role models. The purpose of highlighting the connection is to help enlighten the Air Force’s non-minority leadership. It is important to grasp the fact that the race of the instructor or leadership is something that most majority students never have to contend with. For many minority students, this is an added weight to carry as they compete in pilot training with their non-minority counterparts.
It is crucial for senior Air Force leadership to understand the additional challenges that minority students face in pilot training so that they can mitigate them. One way that the Air Force has mitigated problems that result from small numbers of minorities in a class, and lack of same race peers has been by clustering minority students and, to some degree, minority instructors.
As we have seen in the low hanging fruit chapter, the Air Force has been successful using this strategy at three separate points over the past 71 years.
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