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Investigation Into Virginia Military Institute Racism Finds No Conclusive Violations, But Still Demands More Diversity
The entrance to Virginia Military Institute's P. Wesley Foster, Jr. Stadium.
Heather Rousseau for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Last October, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) called for an investigation of alleged racism at the Virginia Military Institute.

The Hill reported at the time that Northam and others sent a letter to VMI’s Board of Visitors announcing an “independent, third-party review” of the college after reports of racism surfaced in The Washington Post. Among the allegations are “structural racism,” an accusation that a professor described her family’s history as Ku Klux Klan members in positive terms, and alleged threats of lynching.

“Black cadets at VMI have long faced repeated instances of racism on campus, including horrifying new revelations of threats about lynching, vicious attacks on social media, and even a professor who spoke fondly of her family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan—to say nothing of inconsistent application of the Institute’s Honor Code,” the officials wrote in the letter. “This culture is unacceptable for any Virginia institution in the 21st century, especially one funded by taxpayers,” the letter continues. “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particularly public universities established by the General Assembly—to be welcoming and inclusive, and to eschew outdated traditions that glamorize a history rooted in rebellion against the United States.”

That investigation has now concluded, The College Fix reported, and “did not identify conclusive violations of Title VI or Title IX,” federal statutes against racial and sexual discrimination, respectively.

The report did, however, find that “several cadets and alumni reported that they believe minorities and women are promoted over more qualified white male candidates in order to fill diversity quotas,” the outlet reported.

The report remained committed to increasing diversity at VMI, however, with the Barnes & Thornburg law firm, which conducted the investigation, stating in the report that “VMI has also traditionally been run by white men, for white men.”

“VMI’s overall unwillingness to change—or even question its practices and traditions in a meaningful way—has sustained systems that disadvantage minority and female cadets and faculty, and has left VMI trailing behind its peer institutions,” the law firm wrote in its report.

“If VMI refuses to think critically about its past and present, and to confront how racial and ethnic minorities and women experience VMI, it will remain a school for white men,” the firm added.

As the Fix noted, VMI’s Board of Visitors released a statement at the start of the month saying it will implement the law firm’s recommendations.

“Board members determined that most of the recommendations contained in the report should be pursued and have instructed the administration to determine the feasibility of implementation,” the statement said.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • VMI create “measurable goals such as increased diversity in the corps of cadets and faculty.”
  • VMI create “measurable goals to recruit, maintain, and promote minority and female administrators, faculty, and staff.”
  • VMI should “continue to reduce the emphasis on traditions and iconography associated with the Civil War/Confederacy, to be replaced by other traditions and historical associations, including those that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
  • VMI should design and implement sensitivity and bystander training for cadets (including incoming cadets) focused on racism, racial slurs, racial jokes, and racial stereotypes.
  • VMI should, with the involvement of the chief diversity officer, design a campaign to encourage reporting of misconduct beyond simply making mechanisms and opportunities available.
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