DEI Training Comes to VMI

by James A. Bacon

As other Virginia universities rushed to build Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) programs over the past decade, the Virginia Military Institute was long a holdout. In the mythos of the military academy, the infamous Rat Line — an adversarial system that leveled all first-year students and built them back up as cadets — was a great equalizer. It didn’t matter where you came from or how rich your mommy and daddy were, you were a brother Rat.

But American society moved faster than VMI, with historical roots in the ante-bellum South, could evolve. Former Governor Ralph Northam installed a Superintendent and Board of Visitors eager to purge Confederate iconography and embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Now VMI leadership is implementing a DEI plan that includes “diversity” training.

VMI has issued a notice of intent to award the diversity-training contract to NewPoint Strategies, a McLean-based diversity-training firm. (The contract has not been signed yet.) I have not seen a copy of the proposal, but I have reviewed the RFP that it responded to. The RFP provides insight into how VMI under the leadership of Superintendent Cedric T. Wins intends to use DEI to transform the culture of the military academy.

The RFP listed ten criteria for the services to be delivered to “the VMI community, including Institute Executives and the Board of Visitors,” including the following:

  • “DEI training that includes guidelines, cultural sharing, areas of modification, bias intervention options, and DEI language that best fits the VMI community.
  • “Opportunities for individuals to embrace DEI concepts, explore allyship, and a framework for lifelong learning.
  • “Discuss cultural and identity oppression in the context of current culture as it relates to VMI.
  • “Design, conduct, review and analyze an organizational DEI cultural assessment” while “understanding the VMI philosophy.”

Note the use of leftist Woke catchphrases such as “allyship” and “cultural and identity oppression.” Allyship refers to Whites embracing the Woke framework of Whites as oppressors and Blacks as victims. Likewise, the phrase “cultural and identity oppression” reflects the Woke viewing of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in terms of power relationships. The authors of the RFP see the world as nested systems of oppression, which they intend the training to redress. 

In responses to questions submitted by bidders, VMI provided the following elaborations and clarifications:

  • “Recognize that achieving cultural competence requires humility and a commitment to lifelong learning. Understand and respect the intersecting identities, customs, traditions, and cultural norms within the local community, nationally, and abroad. Awareness of the assumptions and biases I hold about people of different cultures than one’s own. Engage with others to gain a broader perspective of the social environments of their lives.”
  • “Help in identifying ways to contend with implicit bias.”
  • “Accountability means that the organization will track and follow-up with Institute Executives to assure consultant/trainers directives are completed.”

Note that last item: training will not settle for merely exposing people to DEI principles. Achieving “cultural competence” is a “lifelong” endeavor that requires tracking and follow-up. “Directives” must be complied with.

The pre-Woke VMI organized itself around creating a culture devoted to (as its website still says) “lifelong values of integrity, devotion to duty, self-discipline, and self-reliance.” These are not the values of society at large, much less of social-justice warriors. They are the values of the citizen-soldier.

It remains to be seen how well the traditional VMI values will hold up under the new DEI regime, a central tenet of which is understanding and empathizing with value systems from other cultures. If all cultures are held to be equally valid, the adversarial system of the Rat Line, which ferociously inculcates VMI’s values, could well be diluted. But Woke orthodoxy does not hold all cultures to be equally valid. Values designed by White oppressors sustain a system of White supremacy should be rejected. If this interpretation of DEI is implemented, it could prove disastrous VMI’s core values.

Bacon’s bottom line: My sense is that General Wins believes he can reconcile the principles of Wokeness with “the VMI philosophy,” perhaps along the lines that West Point, Annapolis and the service academies have done. However, Woke-ism has a relentless logic that brooks no compromise.

Wins could have stood on solid ground if he had stated simply that VMI’s core values reject racism and sexism, and that displays of racism and sexism would not be tolerated. But he didn’t stop there. He is building a DEI bureaucracy and engaging in DEI training that are based on the premise that VMI is systemically racist. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the DEI training does not come into direct conflict with VMI’s citizen-soldier ethos.

Update: The original version of this post contained a phrase that could be interpreted to suggest that General Wins did not state that racism and sexism were inconsistent with VMI values. That was not my intent, I take full responsibility for the poor wording, and I have rewritten the offending text.