LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) -- The Virginia Military Institute has tolerated and failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes, according to a state-sanctioned report released Tuesday.
The 145-page report, put together by an independent law firm at the request of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, states that “racial slurs and jokes are not uncommon” and “contribute to an atmosphere of hostility toward minorities.”
Some graduates welcomed the findings as long-overdue at a nearly two-century-old institution that carries the prestige of helping to educate Gen. George Patton but is also indelibly tied to nation’s history of racism and sexism.
Among other findings, the report found that a racial disparity exists among cadets who have been dismissed by the school’s student-run honor court. Cadets of color represent 23% of the corps but make up 41% of those dismissed since 2011.
The report also said that sexual assault is prevalent yet inadequately addressed at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college. A survey found that 14% of female cadets reported being sexually assaulted, while 63% said that a fellow cadet had told them that he or she was a victim of sexual assault.
“The racist and misogynistic acts and outcomes uncovered during this investigation are disturbing,” the report states. “Although VMI has no explicitly racist or sexist policies that it enforces, the facts reflect an overall racist and sexist culture.”
The report includes several other concerns at the 182-year-old institution: VMI is less diverse than other schools. It maintains an “outdated” reverence for the Civil War and Confederacy. And a rift between athletes and non-athletes has led “to the incorrect perception that ‘athlete’ means ‘African American.’”
The report said the state should require VMI to submit quarterly reports on diversity and inclusion efforts, adding that VMI “will likely follow through on its promised reforms only if it is forced to do so.”
Shah Rahman, a 1997 VMI graduate, told the AP that Tuesday’s report is “quite critical of VMI’s minority and gender inequities, and rightly so.”
But Rahman added that the report “is also an opportunity for VMI to correct its course.”
Independent law firm Barnes & Thornburg conducted the investigation. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, another VMI grad, and other state officials called for the probe after The Washington Post reported that Black cadets and alumni faced “relentless racism.”
In a joint statement Tuesday, Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly pledged to hold VMI accountable.
“While VMI has taken incremental steps forward since this review began, much more is needed,” they said.
VMI was founded in 1839 in Lexington, a historic town in western Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The school educated Generals George Patton and George Marshall. It didn’t accept African Americans until 1968 or accept women until after a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.