Virginia Military Institute must address ‘racist and sexist culture,’ report concludes

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Military Institute needs to be held accountable for tolerating and not addressing a “racist and sexist culture” within the country’s oldest state-funded military college, investigators concluded in a report published Tuesday.

The five-month investigation was conducted by the law firm Barnes & Thornburg at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI alum, after reports were published of allegations of a history of racism at the school.

The firm’s investigation team collected about 2,500 survey responses and nearly 400 interviews from VMI cadets, alumni and faculty throughout the investigation.

VMI’s culture “creates and reinforces barriers” hindering the school from confronting the racial and gender disparities in the treatment of cadets and faculty, according to the 145-page final report.

“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 report’s summary stated. “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.”

Interviewees reported that in some sexual assault cases, members of VMI administration discouraged victims from coming forward.

According to the report, VMI’s culture was “repeatedly” described as one of “silence, fear and intimidation.” The special investigation team said this came to light during their probe when VMI worked to keep members of its community from participating, and in some cases, put VMI attorneys in the room during interviews.

“For whatever reason, we have to make sure that our cadets, in this particular case, female cadets when it comes to sexual assaults, trust that the leadership is going to take action. And then it’s on us a s leaders to make sure that people understand that those types of behaviors will not be tolerated,” said Major General Cedric Wins, VMI Superintendent.

In a statement, VMI’s Board of Visitors called the allegations in the final report “serious” and that the school would treat them 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,” the statement read. “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.”

“The racist and misogynistic acts and outcomes uncovered during this investigation are disturbing. Although VMI has no explicitly racist or sexist policies that it enforces, the facts reflect an overall racist and sexist culture,” the report states. “Until last fall, VMI had shown no appetite to significantly change the biased outcomes their programs produce. The changes underway since then are part of a critically important and positive step forward. But VMI’s conduct throughout this investigation, and the facts that the investigation uncovered, cannot be ignored.”

Gov. Northam, who graduated from VMI in 1981, addressed the final report Tuesday, saying after a press conference where he signed the paid sick leave bill that he has looked it over and it’s currently being reviewed by legislators and VMI.

“We have work to do, but again, the goal here with VMI is to make it welcoming, to promote diversity, to make it inclusive and to continue to train citizen soldiers,” Northam said.

Peter Blake, the director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said in a statement after its release that SCHEV would not make recommendations until after reviewing the whole report.

“SCHEV will not reach any conclusions or make any recommendations on the B&T study until after we have had ample time to review it,” Blake said. “We look forward to engaging VMI as well as the broader higher education community to consider issues raised by the report and recommendations.”

In a message to the VMI Community, Major General Wins said there is no place at VMI for discrimination. The school has created a Unifying Action Plan to move the institute forward.

Meanwhile, the report said VMI has still not produced some documents requested by the special investigation team.

The report said the school must be held accountable and goes on to detail its own recommendations, such as improving diversity in leadership and the corps, and tempering associations with the Civil War and the Confederacy.

This story is developing. Stay with 8News for updates.

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