After allegations of racism and sexism at the Virginia Military Institute were reported in the press, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia commissioned an independent investigation by the law firm Barnes and Thornburg. Their findings were just released in a new report.
The Virginia Military Institute was founded in 1839 in Lexington, Virginia. Its campus was ransacked by Union troops during the Civil War. Today, Blacks make up about 6 percent of the student body and 3 percent of the full-time instructional faculty.
The report begins by saying: “VMI has 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. 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.”
The investigative team held a large number of interviews and focus groups on campus. They found that half of African American cadets strongly or somewhat agree that there is a culture of racial intolerance at VMI, while only 10 percent of Caucasian cadets agree with that sentiment. Similarly, 42 percent of African American cadets responded that African Americans are discriminated against “a lot” at VMI, compared to only 4 percent of Caucasian cadets who feel that way.
The report states that racial slurs and jokes are not uncommon on campus. Administrators, at times, declined to punish offenders who were reported using racial slurs.
The report also states that VMI maintains an outdated, idealized reverence for the Civil War and the Confederacy. While VMI has recently taken steps to address this, many VMI traditions relating to the Civil War era are still given disproportionate attention. Some members of the VMI community still advocate for celebrating Confederate traditions (noting that it is a part of history that should not be “erased”) without appreciating or accepting that it offends many African Americans.
The full 152-page report, Marching Toward Inclusive Excellence: An Equity Audit and Investigation of the Virginia Military Institute, may be downloaded by clicking here.