Report Details Culture of Sexism, Racism at Virginia Military Institute

Jun 1, 2021

A state-ordered investigation into Virginia Military Institute found institutional racism and sexism are “present, tolerated, and left unaddressed.”

The report’s authors also accuse school administrators of trying to derail the investigation.

A law firm hired to perform the equity audit of VMI found racial and gender disparities exist at the Lexington school and that a culture of silence and intimidation prevent efforts to address them.  The report found the use of racist jokes and slurs was not uncommon and that white cadets often failed to recognize the climate facing Black cadets. 

Read the full report

The report found gender disparities were even more pronounced.  It warned sexual assaults against female cadets were prevalent.  "In the survey, 14% of female cadets reported being sexually assaulted at VMI, while 63% said that a fellow cadet had told them that he/she was a victim of sexual assault while a VMI cadet." The authors said VMI had an appropriate process for investigating and adjudicating such incidents when reported, but that many incidents never make it that far because of intimidation and fear of retribution.

Crews lift a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson from its pedestal on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., in this Dec. 7, 2020, file photo.
Credit AP Photo/Sarah Rankin

There have been recent changes, including a new superintendent, creation of a chief diversity officer and the removal of statues and names related to the Confederacy.  But the 145 page report notes those changes came only after intense media and government scrutiny.

The authors say VMI leadership tried to control the investigation and sought to keep members of the community from participating.  "If VMI refuses to think critically about its past and present...," they warned, "it will remain a school for white men."

Governor Ralph Northam, himself a VMI graduate, said the state will hold the school accountable.  "We have work to do," Northam told reporters.  "But again, the goal here with VMI is to make it welcoming, to promote diversity to make it inclusive and to continue to train citizen soldiers."

In a statement, the leaders of VMI’s Board of Visitors said the school will take additional steps.  "While there is more to be done, these recent changes follow a history of taking steps to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the Institute," president John William Boland and president-elect Thomas Watjen wrote, "and we expect to continue to do so."  The board is scheduled to meet to discuss the findings Wednesday afternoon.

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