VMI alums and cadets report racial slurs used on ‘regular basis’
Preliminary report sent to State Council of Higher Education for Va.
In an interim report, investigators looking into reported racist incidents at Virginia Military Institute say some alumni and current cadets have reported hearing racial slurs “on a regular basis” at the state-funded military college in Lexington.
The Washington, D.C.-based law firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP, which submitted the report Monday to Peter A. Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, continues its audit of VMI, which it started Jan. 7, interviewing cadets, alumni, faculty and staff.
The report details several uses of racial slurs, including an account from one Black alumnus who reported being called the n-word “many times” between 2018 and 2021, and a white graduate who attended the school in the late 1990s saying that racial slurs were “common” and “absolutely a part of life in the barracks.” An Asian graduate who attended the school in the mid-1990s said he was “routinely” called “sand n-word” by an upperclassman. Also, according to internal reports at VMI provided to the investigators, there were 13 substantiated allegations of use of racial slurs between 2015 and 2021.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a 1981 VMI alumnus, announced in October that the state would launch a third-party investigation of the Lexington military college’s culture after The Washington Post published a story about a Black student who said he had been threatened with lynching by another student in 2018, among other incidents. The state allocated $1 million for the VMI equity audit, which was set to begin in mid-December but was delayed until after the holidays.
In a progress report issued last month, Barnes & Thornburg complained that the state’s postponement of signing the $1 million contract delayed its work, and also said that VMI insisted its legal counsel participate in all interviews conducted by the auditors. In the report issued Monday, the investigation team says it has more interaction with alumni than current cadets, who have been “the most reluctant to speak with the team thus far.”
Noting that the results in the 100-page report are “only preliminary,” the audit team says that tension between races and genders appears to be related to hostility among cadets and NCAA athletes at VMI, whom many cadets see as having an easier time because they miss some military training due to athletics practices. “Because minority cadets make up a much higher percentage of the athletic teams than they do of the corps of cadets, the tension between athletes and cadets is intertwined with diversity issues at VMI,” the report says. Also, some people interviewed have said that discrimination against female cadets “may be more concerning than conditions for racial minorities.”
VMI enrolled its first female cadets in 1997 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it could not remain an all-male, public institution. VMI was the last public college in Virginia to integrate, first admitting Black cadets in 1968. Following reports in The Washington Post and The Roanoke Times last year, VMI’s superintendent, retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, resigned from the post. His interim replacement, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, a 1985 alumnus, has participated in extensive conversations with state officials and the VMI Board of Visitors, which voted to remove the university’s statue of Confederate Gen. Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, who taught at the institute, in December.
So far, the investigation team has interviewed 46 alumni, most of whom graduated during the past 30 years, including nine Black alumni and two of mixed races, according to the report. The team also have made 71 requests to VMI for documents, some of which were delayed as the university refused to produce them due to privacy concerns. Other documents still have not been handed over, the report states. “For over a month, the team has worked with VMI to reassure it that the necessary protocols had been put in place to ensure that VMI was not inadvertently violating any federal or state laws, but the team is still missing large batches of documents that are essential to its equity audit and investigation.”
Along with the complaints voiced by some interviewees, there also is a lot of pride and loyalty among alumni, the report says. “Even those alumni who criticized certain elements of the VMI experience often expressed their love of and appreciation for VMI and its traditions.”