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Governor orders investigation into racism at Virginia Military Institute

Governor orders investigation into racism at Virginia Military Institute
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Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered an investigation into allegations of “structural racism” at Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

Northam, along with other state officials and legislators, sent a letter to VMI’s Board of Visitors announcing the “independent, third-party review” of the institute after Black cadets and alumni said they endured racism while attending the Lexington, Va., school. 

The officials said in the letter obtained by The Washington Post that they have “deep concerns about the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism” at the U.S.’s oldest state-supported military college. 

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Besides Northam, who graduated from VMI in 1981, the letter was also signed by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) and several state House and Senate leaders. 

“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—to say nothing of inconsistent application of the Institute’s Honor Code,” the letter reads.

“This culture is unacceptable for any Virginia institution in the 21st century, especially one funded by taxpayers,” it continues. “Virginians expect all universities—and particularly public universities established by the General Assembly—to be welcoming and inclusive, and to eschew outdated traditions that glamorize a history rooted in rebellion against the United States.”

The investigation intends to focus on the college’s “culture, policies, practices and equity in disciplinary procedures.” The officials requested preliminary results by the end of the year to allow the legislature time to take necessary action during the 2021 season.

Virginia’s chief diversity officer and secretary of education will also meet with the board at least three years before the end of 2020.

VMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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The letter from Virginia officials came after The Washington Post published a story on Saturday that described a lynching threat, Ku Klux Klan reminiscences and Confederacy admiration at the college

Last week, retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, VMI’s superintendent, told the Post, “There is no place for racism or discrimination at VMI.” He vowed that “any allegation of racism or discrimination will be investigated and appropriately punished, if substantiated.”

Black cadets make up about 8 percent of the college, which was created in 1839, whose cadets fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was the last public college in the state to integrate in 1968. It received almost $19 million in state funding this past fiscal year, the Post reported. 

All of the school’s top officials are white men. Three of VMI’s 17 board members are Black, all of whom were appointed or reappointed by Northam.