Newly released report on VMI's campus culture finds racism and sexism are 'present, tolerated, and too often left unaddressed'

Virginia Military Institute
Posted at 3:55 PM, Jun 01, 2021

RICHMOND - A final report on campus culture at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was released after an investigation was called to investigate a culture of "ongoing structural racism" at the college.

The investigation was ordered in October 2020 after a story by The Washington Post that said Black cadets and alumni faced “relentless racism” at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college.

The Post’s story described threats of lynching as well as a white professor reminiscing in class about her father’s Ku Klux Klan membership.

Related: 'It has the possibility to be a domino effect': VMI student speaks on alleged racism culture investigation

The final detailed report, released Tuesday by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, details racial and gender disparities on campus.

The 145-page report, put together by an independent law firm at the request of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, states that “racial slurs and jokes are not uncommon” and “contribute to an atmosphere of hostility toward minorities.”

Among other findings, the report found that a racial disparity exists among cadets who have been dismissed by the school’s student-run honor court. Cadets of color represent 23% of the corps but make up 41% of those dismissed since 2011.

The report also said that sexual assault is prevalent yet inadequately addressed at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college. A survey found that 14% of female cadets reported being sexually assaulted, while 63% said that a fellow cadet had told them that he or she was a victim of sexual assault.

“The racist and misogynistic acts and outcomes uncovered during this investigation are disturbing,” the report states. “Although VMI has no explicitly racist or sexist policies that it enforces, the facts reflect an overall racist and sexist culture.”

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.”

VMI was founded in 1839 in Lexington, a historic town in western Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The school educated Generals George Patton and George Marshall. It didn’t accept African Americans until 1968 or accept women until after a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In anticipation of the report’s release, VMI highlighted recent diversity and inclusion efforts. They've included forming a committee focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. The school will soon hire its first chief diversity officer and create a cadet-led cultural awareness training program.

The school said that enrollment of cadets of color rose from 12.7% in 1992 to 23.4% in 2020, and that people of color make up 11% of full-time, tenure-track faculty members. VMI also said it is one of the highest producers of minority commissioned officers in the U.S. military.

VMI also pushed back against some of the news coverage.

“(W)hatever work lies before us - the ‘clear and appalling culture’ of ongoing institutional racism attributed to us at the outset of this investigation is simply inaccurate,” the school said.

To read the full report, click here.