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Northam Launches Investigation into VMI Racism Complaints

Virginia Military Institute
The barracks at Virginia Military Institute Wednesday on July 15, 2020, in Lexington, Va. The school, founded in 1839, is the oldest state-supported military college in the United States. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP News)

Virginia Military Institute is under fire for allegations of rampant racism and discrimination. Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI graduate, is launching an investigation into the complaints. 

A Washington Post investigation details several of the personal experiences of Black students at VMI. They recall a white professor reminiscing about her family’s history with the Ku Klux Klan, as well as threats of lynching by other cadets and the glorification of Confederate leaders and symbols.

“They are a tax-funded school and we can not allow this current culture to continue,” said Del. Jennifer Caroll Foy (D-Prince George). Caroll Foy was one of the first Black women to graduate from VMI. She described some of her experiences there as egregious. “There is definitely room for much-needed improvement.”

Caroll Foy, who is also running for governor, said the school should require diversity training for all cadets and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, among other actions. 

Northam is proposing an amendment to the state budget to pay for an independent investigation into VMI’s culture, policies, practices, and equity in disciplinary procedures. His office did not say how much it would cost. 

Northam joined Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, and legislative leaders in sending a letterto VMI officials Monday expressing concerns about the allegations. 

“Virginians expect all universities—and particularly public universities established by the General Assembly—to be welcoming and inclusive, and to eschew outdated traditions that glamorize a history rooted in rebellion against the United States,” the letter said. 

VMI President John William “Bill” Boland responded to that letter Tuesday saying he welcomes the review.  

“I am confident that the reviewers will find that the Institute has acted according to the values that we aim to instill in our cadets – with honor, integrity, respect, and civility,” Boland said. 

Boland said the incidents detailed in the Washington Post article were many years old and “had more to do with an individual’s lapse of judgment than they do with the culture of the Institute”. 

He said each of the cases was investigated and appropriate action was taken. 

 

 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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