- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The president of the Board of Visitors at the Virginia Military Institute said Tuesday he welcomes an investigation ordered by state officials into how the school handles allegations of racism.

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

Mr. Boland was responding to a letter co-written Monday by Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring and eight state delegates.

The joint letter signed by the 11 Democratic state officials outlines a plan to use state funds to hire a “non-partisan national organization” to review the “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism.”

The Republican Party of Virginia declined a request for comment.“Black cadets at VMI have long faced repeated instances of racism on campus, including horrifying new revelations of threats about lynching, vicious attacks on social media, and even a professor who spoke fondly of her family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan,” the letter states.

The “new revelations” were reported over the weekend by The Washington Post in an article that included interviews with several current and former cadets about racism they have encountered.


A Black senior named William Burton told The Post that in September he and another Black student boycotted a speech on campus by Vice President Mike Pence and were punished with confinement on campus for three weeks, demerits and hours of detention.

Mr. Boland said “several” of the incidents reported in the article were “many years old, [and] had more to do with an individual’s lapse of judgment than they do with the culture of the Institute.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Northam did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment about which organization will conduct the third-party review or how much it will cost. The state reportedly will seek preliminary results of the review before the end of the year to allow time for possible legislative action in the next General Assembly session.

The commonwealth’s chief diversity officer and education secretary also will convene with the VMI board at least three times before the end of the year. They will help review campus culture best practices and funding, and provide support for a diversity plan.

VMI administrators already are reviewing “nearly 30 operational elements” including traditions, ceremonies and culture to ensure “an Institute free from racism and discrimination,” Mr. Boland said Tuesday.

Founded in Lexington in 1839, VMI admitted its first Black cadets in 1968 and its first female cadets in 1997. The school said earlier this year that Confederate monuments on campus would not be removed but some traditions would change.

DOCUMENT: VMI response letter

Mr. Northam graduated in 1981 from the nation’s oldest state-funded military college, where he served as president of the Honor Court.

Last year, CBS reported that among a list of nicknames the potential racial slur “Coonman” was listed under Mr. Northam’s name in a VMI yearbook.

The governor had come under fire in February 2019, when he said he was in a picture from a 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook that showed one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The next day he retracted the statement, but said he did wear blackface in 1984 when he entered a dance contest impersonating Michael Jackson.

Having faced with weeks of public calls for his resignation, Mr. Northam said he “spent the past year fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people” and would continue to do so.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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