Report: Institutional racism, sexism present and tolerated at VMI

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 11:17 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WWBT/AP) - A state-sanctioned report says the Virginia Military Institute has tolerated and failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes.

The report was put together by an independent law firm and released Tuesday by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and other state officials ordered an investigation after The Washington Post reported that Black cadets and alumni faced “relentless racism.”

After a months-long investigation, an independent law firm released its final, 152-page report.

Among the findings, there are systemic racial and gender issues at the 182-year-old school.

The report recognizes VMI’s historic importance but emphasizes that it has traditionally been “a school run by white men, for white men.”

“Did those accusations come as a surprise to you?” NBC 12 asked VMI Superintendent Major General Cedric Wins.

“Not really...Things that have come to light from our corps of cadets - both past and present - where incidents of racism have occurred,” he said.

Wins is the first Black Superintendent in VMI’s history after assuming the role this year. He points to progress already happening.

“The fact that we have our first Regimental Commander who is also a female is a big change.”

The report said VMI maintains “outdate, idealized” reverence for the Civil War and Confederacy. While steps have been taken to address this, the report says disproportionate attention is still given to traditions related to the Civil War.

The investigation found that members of the VMI community still advocate for Confederate traditions to be celebrated without any thought that offends many African Americans. It was also found that minority members are not afforded the same opportunities to celebrate dates important to their communities.

It found that half of African American cadets agree there is a culture of racial intolerance at VMI. However, the investigation says while there are significant racial issues, they do not rise to the level of a civil rights violation.

The report says many respondents, including men, said that VMI’s gender equity issues are worse than its racial-equity issues. Those surveyed reported a culture of women not being taken seriously, double standards for behavior and misogynistic comments.

It was also found that sexual assault is prevalent and not appropriately addressed by VMI. Fourteen percent of female cadets reported being sexually assaulted at VMI while 63 percent said a fellow cadet told them they were assaulted.

It lays out 8 different things the school needs to do to improve the culture.

Governor Northam, along with other state leaders, released a statement about the report saying in part:

“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.”

Wins says the institution is ready for the challenge. “We need to embrace the idea of diversity, equity and inclusion...That is essential to the development of our young men and women here as they go out into society to lead very diverse organizations and be a part of very diverse institutions,” he said.

VMI was founded in 1839 and is the nation’s oldest state-supported military college. It didn’t accept African Americans until 1968 or women until the 1990s.

To read the full report, click here.

Copyright 2021 WWBT/AP. All rights reserved.

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