Northam's medical school awarded national diversity honor amid blackface scandal

Northam's medical school awarded national diversity honor amid blackface scandal
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The medical school attended by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was awarded a national prize for fostering diversity even as the school was caught in the middle of a racist photo scandal.

Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk was awarded the Institutional Excellence Award last month by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE), The Virginian-Pilot reported Thursday.

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The award goes to one school annually for “measurable progress in promoting and sustaining innovative diversity efforts” on its campus.

Administrators learned of the recognition several weeks ago but were unable to announce it until Friday’s conference in Philadelphia, the newspaper noted.

“I told my wife, ‘God has a wry sense of humor,’” said Dr. Richard V. Homan, president and provost of the school, who told The Virginian-Pilot he had learned of the award "after the chaos" resulting from the controversy.

His accepted the award weeks after the medical school was embroiled in a racist photo scandal that made national headlines.

A resurfaced page from Northam’s 1984 yearbook depicted one man in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

The governor initially apologized for appearing in the photo, but later insisted he was not in the image. He did acknowledge that he once wore blackface to dress up like Michael Jackson.

The governor has resisted calls for his resignation.

He was the first of three top Virginia politicians plagued by controversies in the following weeks. Later, Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax (D) was accused by two women of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) also admitted to using blackface as a teenager. 

Holms launched two external investigations, one through a community-based advisory board and another by a Richmond law firm, following the backlash, the newspaper reported. 

The Hill has reached out to the NADOHE for comment.

“The nomination was submitted before we had the information about what happened at the state level,” Dr. Marcus Martin said. “So again, I think we can praise God for knowing that this institution is doing a lot of the right things.”

Martin, an African-American board member for the school, wrote the recommendation letter in early January.

The newspaper noted that a new admissions process in June 2013 contributed to the near-doubling of minorities in the school’s medical doctor program. Applicants’ race, ethnicity and background have since been considered in admissions decisions, as well as test scores and grades.

Of the 1,388 total medical doctor and health professions students, 526 are minorities and 181 are specifically black, according to the school.