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Report: VMI tolerated racism and must change; state leaders and VMI react

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 3:13 PM EDT
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(AP) A state-sanctioned report says the Virginia Military Institute has tolerated and failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes.

The report was put together by an independent law firm and released Tuesday by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and other state officials ordered an investigation after The Washington Post reported that Black cadets and alumni faced “relentless racism.”

The state-sanctioned report says racist slurs and jokes are not uncommon and that sexual assault is prevalent yet inadequately addressed.

VMI was founded in 1839 and is the nation’s oldest state-supported military college. It didn’t accept African Americans until 1968 or women until the 1990s.

Click here to read the full report.

LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ/Governor’s Office Release) - Governor Ralph Northam has joined other statewide leaders in responding to a newly-released report on campus culture at the Virginia Military Institute.

The report, released Tuesday by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, concludes a nearly five-month independent investigation into equity on campus, after Governor Northam and legislative leaders called for an independent investigation in October 2020. The investigation was funded by the General Assembly and conducted by Barnes and Thornburg, LLP from January to June 2021.

The report cites recommendations following an initial report in March from the Barnes & Thornburg law firm that said interviews with current and former cadets revealed racial slurs were “a common experience” in both the past and present, and described delays in the work caused by VMI.

Governor Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, Senate President pro tempore Louise Lucas, Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus Lamont Bagby, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Luke Torian, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, House Majority Leader Charniele Herring and Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke issued the following statement:

“Today, the Commonwealth and VMI received the highly detailed report examining the culture at the oldest state-supported military college in the United States.

“The investigation found that institutional racism and sexism are present, tolerated, and too often left unaddressed.

“While VMI has taken incremental steps forward since this review began, much more is needed. The question is whether VMI is willing to acknowledge this reality.

“The Commonwealth will study this report carefully and then take appropriate action. VMI would be wise to do so as well. VMI is an agency of state government, and we will hold it accountable.”

The VMI Board of Visitors issued this statement:

The Board of Visitors received a copy today of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s review into allegations of racism and gender issues at VMI. These are serious allegations and are being treated as such. VMI is not immune to the challenges all colleges face in this area, and there have been incidents on our campus which we have documented and shared as part of this investigation. Let us be clear though, this behavior has never been tolerated and, as an oversight board, we are committed to assuring every action is being taken to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all at our school.

During the time this investigation has been ongoing, VMI has been busy taking action on many of the concerns that were identified earlier last year. While there is more to be done, these recent changes follow a history of taking steps to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the Institute, and we expect to continue to do so.

From the start of this inquiry, we have been told by the governor and others on his staff that the report would be turned over to the Board of Visitors for our response. We are in the process of studying the report and will be developing an appropriate plan of action which is consistent with VMI’s mission and method of education. To that point, we are extremely confident in the direction set by Superintendent Major General Wins, and he has our full support as we navigate through these challenging times.

We remain steadfast in our belief that there has never been a greater need for the type of leaders produced by VMI. We are very proud of the 347 graduates who received their diplomas recently, and the many more that will follow, and confident that they will continue to make a mark on this world.

John William Boland ’73, President, and Thomas R. Watjen ’76, President-elect

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