Northam, other leaders write letter calling for investigation into claims of racism at VMI

Northam, other leaders write letter calling for investigation into claims of racism at VMI
Virginia Military Institute (Source: WVIR)

LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - Governor Ralph Northam, and 10 other state leaders, are calling for an independent investigation after a Washington Post article detailed claims of alleged racist incidents at VMI.

The article, published over the weekend, included criticism of the New Market Parade, a VMI tradition, and other experiences that cadets claim they had on grounds.

In a letter sent to the VMI Board of Visitors on Monday, Northam and leaders called the developments “appalling,” and wrote “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 laid out three steps that the group is taking in response. The first is a third-party review of the school’s policies, culture, practices and disciplinary procedures. A non-partisan national group would be appointed for the review, and the state plan to ask for preliminary findings by the end of the year, according to the letter.

The letter also notes that Northam will propose to pay for the review with state funds, in a budget amendment. It also states that the Board will need to go over the results of the investigation with Janice Underwood, Virginia’s top diversity officer, and Atif Qarni, Virginia’s Secretary of Education.

Along with Northam, the letter includes the names of Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw.

A copy of the letter is attached to this article.

VMI Director of Communications and Marketing, Colonel Bill Wyatt, released a statement on behalf of the school in response to the Post’s article:

"A recent article in the Washington Post erroneously portrayed the Virginia Military Institute as having a culture of hostility and insensitivity toward Black cadets. Nothing could be further from the truth. The incidents detailed in the article, several of which are many years old, had more to do with an individual’s poor judgement than they do with the culture of the Institute. Each one, as is the case with any allegation of racism or discrimination, was investigated thoroughly and appropriate action was meted out in a timely fashion. There’s no question that some of the incidents are disturbing and have no place at VMI. They were, nonetheless, incidents perpetrated by few individuals and were in no way condoned by the Institute.

As a result of the current events that transpired over the summer, VMI administrators had already begun a review of nearly 30 operational elements of the Institute including traditions, ceremonies, culture, and the relationship between our cadets and alumni just to name a few. The way forward was thoroughly reviewed and discussed at the September 2020 Board of Visitors meeting and was endorsed as a path toward ensuring an Institute free from racism and discrimination. Members of the Board of Visitors have asked for a progress update prior to their next meeting in January 2021.

The way forward is a comprehensive approach that represents a deep dive into our culture, traditions, and operations. It requires us to make some changes and refocus our efforts. Notwithstanding, the Post article made no attempt to paint an accurate picture of the culture of the institution and is in direct conflict with the overwhelmingly positive feedback of our cadets and alumni."

Click here to read WDBJ7′s previous reporting of the VMI allegations, and the school’s response before the Governor’s letter was sent to the Board of Visitors.

This is a developing story. Stay with WDBJ7 for updates.

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