LEXINGTON, Va. — On Tuesday, June 1, an independent study was released, which showed that racism and sexism are prevalent among cadets and alumni of Virginia Military Institute (VMI).
Governor Northam, a class of 1981 alumni of VMI, ordered the investigation by the independent firm of Barnes and Thornburg, LLP, after a Washington Post article described a culture of “relentless racism” on the campus of the state-supported military college. The period of study ran from January-June, 2021.
The report, which included a survey conducted with VMI cadets and alumni, showed that 42 percent of African American cadets felt that African Americans were discriminated against “a lot,” as opposed to only 10 percent of Caucasian cadets that shared this sentiment. Other minority respondents did not report experiencing racism to the same degree that African American respondents reported to.
It was also noted that racial “slurs and jokes” are not uncommon on campus. Additionally, the study showed that the school placed an antiquated emphasis upon an idealized portrayal the Confederacy and the its traditions, as opposed to a historically accurate representation, regardless of how it may impact African American cadets.
The study noted that cadet, alumni and faculty respondents “repeatedly described the culture at VMI as one of silence, fear, and intimidation, especially as it related to reporting of problems or issues that reflect negatively on the Institute or its leadership.”
For example, findings included responses that victims were discouraged from reporting sexual assaults. Respondents felt that the school’s leadership put emphasis on “suppressing information and avoiding difficult problems,” over addressing the underlying antecedents.
Numerous respondents indicated that gender-equity issues may outpace racial-equity issues on the campus. They indicated that women were not taken seriously and suffered double standards in matters pertaining to dress, as well as sexual and social behavior. Female cadets reported to living in consistent fear of assault or harassments by male cadets, with 14 percent reporting that they had been victims of sexual assault.
Many female respondents stated that they did not feel that reports of sexual assault are not or will not be taken seriously by school administration and that a cadet might suffer retaliatory measures as a result of a reported assault.
Barnes and Thornburg, LLC noted that it is illegal for every state funded school in Virginia, with the exception of VMI, to punish a student for an alcohol or drug offense that comes to light during an investigation into a possible sexual assault.
Overall, the report showed that, despite identifying racial harassments, intolerance, and climate, it did not specifically find civil rights violations under Title VI. However, the investigation did show several instances of gender and sexual misconduct that require further examination of civil rights violations under Title IX.
Governor Northam joined other statewide leaders in a statement that read: