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Legislative Debates Over VMI Emerge

Virginia Military Institute class of 2021 watch during a change of command parade and ceremony on the parade grounds at the school in Lexington, Va., in this Friday, May 14, 2021, file photo. The findings of a months-long investigation into racism at the
Steve Helber

Debates over legislation governing the Virginia Military Institute are probably on the horizon, spurred by a report by the State Council of Higher Education For Virginia.

The authors of the report, which detailed racial and gender disparities at the military college, recommended the General Assembly require quarterly reports on progress at VMI.

It also included a recommendation on removing VMI’s exemption from a law that prevents colleges from punishing students for using drugs or alcohol, if drug or alcohol use comes to light when they make a report on sexual violence.

Delegate Dan Helmer of Fairfax says he’s planning to introduce legislation in January to remove that exemption.

“If we're going to produce the next generation of officers for the Air Force, The Army, The Marine Corps, and the Navy, then we ought to be doing so in a way that inspires young leaders of character who are committed to sexual violence prevention, as well as being effective military leaders,” Helmer said in an interview.

In January, a group of alumni decided to establish a political action committee called the Spirit of VMI. Matt Daniel, the chair of the committee, said in a webinar that he and other alumni were upset the college’s leadership didn’t push back on the report.

“We were heartbreakingly disappointed that an entire community, a family of people we know and love and respect were all label as racist and not just incidental racists but systemic racists,” Daniel said.

The group didn’t agree to an interview by deadline and haven’t taken stances on potential legislation on their website.

The group has raised over $60,000, so far. Their website doesn’t mention party affiliation. But the group’s treasurer was a general council for the Republican Party of Virginia and Republican candidates are interviewed on its YouTube channel.

A spokesperson for VMI said the college does not have any restrictions on a cadet’s political activity as long as it is done on their time and not in their VMI uniform. Federal guidelines govern the political activity of cadets that have contracted with the military.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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