Gov. Northam orders investigation of VMI’s culture after report describes history of ‘relentless racism’

Virginia News

VMI denies systemic racism exists at the college and believes an investigation will prove it.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An investigation into the Virginia Military Institute’s culture has been ordered by the state’s top officials in the wake of a report from The Washington Post in which Black cadets and alumni recounted a history of “relentless racism” at the nation’s oldest state-run military college.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia’s other top elected officials shared their “deep concerns about the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism at the Virginia Military Institute” in a joint letter to VMI’s Board of Visitors on Monday.

The letter informs the college’s Board of Visitors of an impending probe of its culture, practices, polices and equity in disciplinary procedures that will be conducted by an unnamed nonpartisan national organization.

“As the Institute’s governing board, you bear the ultimate authority for immediately addressing these concerns, but it is clear that internal action alone is no longer sufficient for VMI to join in the commitment to diversity and equity that the rest of Virginia’s government is embracing,” the letter reads.

Northam will propose a budget amendment to fund the review and state leaders will ask for results by the end of the year to give the General Assembly time to possibly take “necessary legislative action.”

For its report, The Washington Post said it spoke with “more than a dozen current and former students of color,” some of whom alleged lynching threats and being forced to salute to Confederate statues.

“We need to be clear that we strongly support VMI’s ‘mission of producing leaders — educated men and women of unimpeachable character and absolute integrity.’ But these latest allegations suggest that VMI leaders are not moving fast enough or embracing the fundamental commitment to diversity that Americans expect from every institution in the 21st century,” the letter continued.

Northam, who was the former president of VMI Honor Court and graduated from the college in 1981, signed the letter along with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring and leaders in the state legislature.

John W. Boland, the president of VMI’s Board of Visitors, said the college welcomes the review and that the incidents described in The Post’s story “had more to do with an individual’s lapse of judgment than they do with the culture of the Institute” in a letter to state officials on Tuesday.

“Virtually all colleges in the 50 states can point to inappropriate behavior by their students or faculty members. VMI is not immune,” Boland writes. “However, systemic racism does not exist here and a fair and independent review will find that to be true.”

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