Does Racism Still Reside At VMI?

The Stonewall Jackson statue at VMI.

By Peter Galuszka

On this blog, at least, there has been plenty of grief at the University of Virginia over controversies involving diversity. But over at Lexington, a town not far away, an even bigger battle involving the issue has been engaged.

Black students and alumni at the Virginia Military Institute, the state’s public military college, complain that the institution is involved in systemic racism that hasn’t gone away years after Blacks and women were finally allowed to enter.

Students complain that they are criticized and told to leave the school if they object to having white supremacist figures, such as Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, included in school emblems, hear classroom stories by a faculty member favoring the Ku Ku Klan and face social media insults decrying the color of their skin, according to The Washington Post.

Gov. Ralph Northam, a graduate of VMI, on Monday announced an investigation into racism at the school, whose storied history includes a movie by actor and former President Ronald Reagan. The School has graduated such military leaders as George C, Marshall, who headed the Army.

According to Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, one of the first African American women to graduate from VMI, said, “Let me be clear: racism and discrimination of any kind is unacceptable anywhere, most especially in the halls of a premier military institution,” according to the blog Blue Virginia. She has suggested seven corrective steps, including classes to expand diversity awareness. She is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

One irony of the VMI story is that the U.S. Military has been a leader in integrating the armed services long before a number of Southern states allowed integration. At VMI, Black cadets were not allowed until 1968 and it was years later before females were accepted and that was the result of a Supreme Court decision lead by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Students have complained about some of the school’s peculiar traditions in earlier days, such as paying homage to Stonewall Jackson when assembling and having a school play “Dixie” at marches. There have been social media statements that some students are to be lynched. Students and a faculty member allegedly took part in a skit in which they depicted Donald Trump’s Southern “wall” to keep out Hispanics. And, pictures of social events are chock-a-bloc of White people dressed in Black-face of a nature similar to what Northam was allegedly involved in as a medical student.

VMI and another state military school, the Citadel in South Carolina, have long been party of a Southern mystique combining male dominance, regional emotion and racism. The Citadel, for instance, has long been the subject of novels by the late South Carolina author, Pat Conroy. His best known Citadel work is “The Lords of Discipline.”

It seems that both places are very much stuck in the past.

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61 responses to “Does Racism Still Reside At VMI?

  1. Baconator with extra cheese

    With the current power structure of Virginia I have no idea how VMI can remain untouched and open.
    I also have no idea what they do with Virginia Mourning Her Dead and the Keydets buried there.
    I can’t even inagine the school surviving as a private school.
    This is what the public is demanding, it’s time the government actually give it to them. Tear it down.

    • Because the officer ranks of the Army has more VMI grads than USMA grads perhaps? Hey, if you can catch one bullet, you can catch ’em all.

      • I don’t know how you could come to that conclusion. Attendance doesn’t mean service, it’s ROTC and nearly half don’t choose the military. That is the same with most other schools.

        Furthermore, VMI isn’t a direct path of the Army. As they have ROTC for Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine.

        • Well, there is this showing the decreasing percentage of USMA grads moving to flag rank, but I must have misunderstood something a VMI grad flag officer said about the number of VMI grads as career officers.

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1985/12/01/why-waste-money-on-west-pointit-costs-far-less-to-get-outstanding-officers-from-americas-other-colleges/a2503113-082e-45f2-a0b2-13d51759910c/

          • Your citation offers nothing of substance, it was published in 1985 and is an opinion piece.

            Service Academy grads are heavily recruited, that is and has always been the case.

            Also, VMI commissioning source is ROTC. The only time that us ROTC commissioned officers interact with Service Academy grads is at BOLC.

          • While it is hard to compare today’s command structure with World War II’s, virtually every senior Army leadership position then was held by a West Pointer. Gen. George C. Marshall, a Virginia Military Institute graduate, was the most notable exception. While about 37 percent of the active Army’s 412 general officers are West Point graduates, their ranks dwindle each year. Of the 64 officers selected to become brigadier generals last year, for instance, less than a quarter were West Point graduates.

            This year, only 12 of the 63 officers selected in July for general officer rank were West Pointers — less than a fifth. What is startling about that 19 percent is that better than a third of the selection board was made up of West Pointers.

          • Again, I must have misunderstood something a VMI grad flag officer said about the number of VMI grads as career officers.

          • West Point was established in 1802.

            ROTC was established at Norwich in 1918.

          • I think it was meant instantaneous not cumulative.

          • Neither ROTC or Service Academy grads need to stay beyond their commitment, which depends on lots of factors to include Med School, ADSO’s and so forth.

            I was an ROTC commissioned Officer as well as my wife, she was a ROTC scholarship for Nursing. Upon her 4 years, she left.

            My experience with VMI grad’s and other pseudo service academies is much like Ring knocker’s.. If they had a big ego before, it just got bigger and more pompous there.

        • Around the time that VMI was going coed, I was having lunch with some friends and acquaintances one of who was a VMI grad and retired 1-star. There was a lot of discussion about VMI. He made the comment that the Army had more VMI grad career officers than USMA grad career officers.

          That stuck. I accepted it as reasonable, and probably true, since beyond their commitment, USMA grads needn’t continue service making those upper ranks more likely to be filled with fewer and fewer MA grads. So, even starting with fewer entrants, VMI would begin to have more in those upper ranks.

          Forget the subject of the opinion piece, the important part was the reducing percentage of MA grad flag officers. It only makes my friend’s statement more plausiible, given the 37% MA grad number.

          BTW, Bill was given to an exaggerated fondness for VMI.

    • I don’t understand how the Democratic party can remain. Is there any part of the opposition to abolition or Jim Crow that doesn’t have direct ties to that party?

      “The Democratic Party defended slavery, started the Civil War, opposed Reconstruction, founded the Ku Klux Klan, imposed segregation, perpetrated lynchings, and fought against the civil rights acts of the 1950s and 1960s. ”

      https://assets.ctfassets.net/qnesrjodfi80/6bQdKPLDjyo2s0I8c60gA2/aec7a4feb53cdd469d9c59bc3dd5cc64/swain-the_inconvenient_truth_about_the_democratic_party-transcript.pdf

      Tear it down.

      • that just bogus. The Dems in the south USED to be Conservatives then they switched and now the GOP is.

        But the bigger point is what to do. Do we just deny there is racism? Do we not believe it and reject what blacks say?

        • Why do you perpetuate the racial stereotype that blacks only have one point of view and all say the same thing? You sound like Joe Biden.

          Take a listen to John James, candidate for the U.S. Senate from MI.

          https://mobile.twitter.com/JohnJamesMI/status/1317243928601628674

          • I don’t but if you look at the polls on these issues, you will see the divergence of views between white and blacks.

            that’s a reality. When you keeping looking for something else – you miss the realities.

            No. Not all blacks nor whites think the same way but when large numbers do – it’s real.

          • “I don’t but…”

            Thanks for starting my morning with a bit of humor. You regularly portray black views as monolithic. Additionally, the black voices that disagree with your politics don’t seem to matter much.

            All black voices matter.

            All black lives matter too. Any sympathy at all coming from the left for Philip Anderson? He got the crap beat out of him by BLM supporters because he expressed views that they disagree with.

            “Event organizer Philip Anderson was attacked by the Brownshirts, who knocked out his front teeth. White mob attacks black man and knocks out his teeth? It’s OK, they’re Democrats:”

            https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2020/10/the-brownshirts-are-back.php

          • so this is what often gets posted:

            It’s not monolithic at all but it is powerful if you really want to understand the issue.

            Hardly anything is monolithic. At the same time, if a significant number of people feel or think a certain way, it’s just willfull ignorance to ignore it and claim not everyone thinks that way.

            You have to want to know the reality – not your own biases.

          • The litmus test for you to post a survey of African American views sure looks to me like it’s whether or not the poll agrees with your partisan politics. If I’m wrong in that, please provide a link.

            I don’t recall you posting this for example.

            “81% of Black Americans Don’t Want Less Police Presence Despite Protests—Some Want More Cops: Poll”

            https://www.newsweek.com/81-black-americans-dont-want-less-police-presence-despite-protestssome-want-more-cops-poll-1523093

            And I see that you have no comment about Philip Anderson. Did you see the picture of him with his face smashed in? This type of thing happens almost daily, but it doesn’t fit the narrative and is ignored by the left.

            I believe in freedom of speech for everyone. I also want everyone to be free from harassment and violence. The left pretends to care about African Americans, but in truth it’s all about partisan politics.

          • No litmus test. No race baiting.

            But all of us have to WANT to know how a lot of black people feel about these issues if we ourselves really want to understand the reality.

            Not even one poll… but many, and you will start to see a pattern and get a feel as to how MANY or MOST black folks feel about issues like Confederate symbols in everyday life, on college campuses , on military bases, etc. How they feel about “white culture.

            If we are going to fairly address these issues, we HAVE TO WANT TO KNOW how many/most black people feel AND we have to be willing to accept what large numbers – shown by polls – of black folks.

            Now, if you think that is “race baiting” so be it… you’re certainly entitled to your view.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese

    Plus this could be the ultimate act of self-flagellation for Dr. Governor Coonman. He could literally tear down the white supremacy of his own past.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    VMI will survive. The yankees burned it down one time all ready. Can this be traced back to Charleston and Dylan Roof as well?

  4. This sorta get back to if you ask white folks if racism still exists at insitutions verses asking black folks.

    Different opinions.

    But some white folks just simply reject the opinion of black folks, it seems.

    like: ” what’s the problem with Confederate statues? They’re HISTORY! ”

    😉

  5. Baconator with extra cheese

    Exactly. The current climate says if African Americans don’t like or are troubled by an institution it should be removed. I believe the state should follow through with their chosen messaging and immediately defund and close VMI. If they are serious it would really be the ultimate first step in the reconciliation.

  6. Baconator with extra cheese

    Maybe even have a buy back program for all the cherished VMI class rings out there.

  7. A wall to keep out Hispanics. How about a wall to keep out illegal immigrants? Every nation has a right and a duty to control its borders. Why do so many journalists believe the United States does not?

    If we can ignore our immigration laws, what other federal laws can we choose to ignore? How about copyright? Why can’t an entrepreneur hire someone to hack media sites and put articles from other sources on a new site and avoid any liability under the federal copyright statutes?

  8. VMI is in a lose-lose position. Not only is it grounded in Confederate origins and leaders that were proud slave holders, but in order to survive financially they have been recruiting black students that qualify for full scholarships under a special program. They will end up like Sweet Briar.
    ( You sow what you reap.)

    • After reading several posts, I have to wonder, do any of you know what you are talking about? VMI grounded in confederate origins? If someone did not know any better one would think VMI was nothing more than a WASP training ground. Learn something about the Institute then comment. I can go to every state institution including HBC&U’s and find racist actions current and past. For you white guilt cupcakes stop pandering to minorities it is more offensive than anything else that they have encountered. CONSIDER THIS Many of the current general assembly actions (proposed laws) depict minorities as less capable of getting their vehicle inspection in the month that it is due, that we need a 04 month grace period. GA Members said this law was necessary because expired state inspections are used to pull minorities. Racist! Can you get anymore Racist than that theory. What is best the GA is saying minorities can’t do what they are suppose to do.

      • Three cheers for jwallace. And Rippert too, below.

      • People might not remember but the GA was seriously considering getting rid of vehicle inspections all together. The thinking was that a lot of repair jobs used the inspections to their advantaged and that people with lower incomes were vulnerable to bills they could not afford and some question about the need of some things.

        “less capable” may mean less financially capable as opposed to other meanings.

        • ““less capable” may mean less financially capable as opposed to other meanings.”

          It could mean “less financially capable” but it doesn’t. The sponsor of the bill made a specific point of bringing race into the discussion of the changes to the law.

  9. Doesn’t VMI receive direct federal funding? I seem to recall, perhaps wrongly, that was also an issue when they were all male.

  10. Before we get all hysterical about the Washington Post article, let’s review the evidence in the article. Remember, these are the worst examples that the Post could come up with to justify its charge that blacks at VMI are afflicted by “relentless racism.”

    Keniya Lee attended a class in which a white adjunct professor told stories about her father’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s. Kellogg told the Washington Post that the intent of her reminiscences was to show how much society had changed. It was, she said, “important for students to understand that people change and that you can’t crucify me based on my father’s history.” Lee didn’t see it that way, she complained to administrators, and the administration asked Kellogg to apologize.

    In 2018, a block sophomore objected to incorporating Stonewall Jackson’s image into the design of the class ring. A fellow student denounced him by name on a chat app: “F—ing leave already. People like you are the reason this school is divided. Stop focusing so much on your skin color and focus on yourself as a person. Nobody i[n] your recent family line was oppressed by ‘muh slavery.’ ”

    When Vice President Pence gave a speech on campus, two black students boycotted the event. They were punished with demerits, detention and three weeks of confinement on campus. The WapO offered no explanation that the punishment was racially motivated.

    In 2017, Col. William Wanovich, the school’s commandant of cadets, appeared in a Halloween photo of cadets dressed up in boxes as President Trump’s border wall with the words, “Keep out,” and “No Cholos,” a disparaging term for men or boys of Mexican descent. VMI said at the time that the costume was in poor taste but declined comment on whether Wanovich was disciplined (a private personnel matter).

    In March, Carmelo Echevarria Colon III, a training sergeant, condemned the Black Lives Matter movement on Facebook: “I am seeing all these clowns taking a knee and bowing to [protest]. I’ll take a knee alright. To maximize my shooting platform.”

    Last year a white sophomore told a black freshman that he’d “lynch” him and “use his dead corpse as a punching bag.” The administration suspended the student for one academic year.

    Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay III has defended keeping the statue of Jackson, a slaveholder, on the grounds that he was a “military genius” intimately associated with the Institute. But he has declared that there is no place for racism or discrimination at VMI and has altered many of the school’s traditions rooted in its Confederate past.

    According to the Post, about 8 percent of VMI’s 1,700 students are Black — somewhere between 130 and 140. The WaPo quotes about a half dozen who support the white writer’s racism narrative. We don’t know if they represent a majority opinion among black VMI students and grads or a disgruntled minority.

    We have six incidents spread over three years. In one incident, the teacher was asked to apologize. In another incident, the administration suspended a student for making racially charged remarks. In a third, it distanced itself from the border-wall costumes. Two other incidents involved people making political comments on social media (presumably protected by free speech, and not directed toward any individual at VMI). The incident in which two blacks were disciplined involved boycotting an event where attendance was required. Zero evidence was presented that the punishment was racially motivated.

    That’s the evidence of “relentless racism.”

    Governor Ralph Northam has written a letter to the VMI board of visitors expressing his “deep concerns” about the “appalling culture of ongoing structural racism” at VMI. The state will fund an independent probe into the school’s culture, policies, practices, and disciplinary procedures.

    Let’s hope the probe starts with an inquiry into the derivation of Northam’s VMI nickname, Coonman. That might be the most genuinely racist of all.

  11. Gee. Anything to minimize racist acts at VMI. It might take away from non-incidents at UVA

    • I’m not “minimizing” individual racist acts — I’m saying that the WaPo presented no evidence of “systemic” racism or “relentless” racism. Please explain to us why you think the terms “systemic” and “relentless” apply in this case.

  12. A google search shows that about 57 percent of grads become commissioned officers. For entry, acceptance levels run 50 percent or more, so UVA and WM seem harder. My uneducated sense is that VMI grads who do not go military do well in engineering, construction and such jobs.

  13. Baconator with extra cheese

    I heard that some of those willing to learn moonwalking and blackface even become governors.

  14. I do not doubt for a minute that Northam engaged in racist behavior. The question is – has he changed? And have the other folks who held racist views – changed or be willing to change or just continue to deny there is racism or a white culture in the institutions?

    There is lots of hypocrisy here -both sides but again are we willing to admit there is a problem or just continue to stonewall it?

    • There are individual acts of racism in this country, but it is not systemic.
      America is now an open society. It took decades of hard work by civil rights activists. To now say that it still exists is an insult to them.

      • If individual acts of racism occur in a work environment or at a school with hired staff or with designated student leaders – is that systemic?

        If racist symbols, like Confederate leaders still exist in the school environment is that systemic?

    • Did he change? Yes, after he got caught! Before the pictures he barely touched the race subject after everyday / all day! There is no denying racism is alive. Is it like 1860, 1930, 1950, 1970 ….. NO! Please admit one thing, all people are racist. Please admit everyone is offended daily. I’m offended by the music blasting out of vehicles, a mans pants below his butt and language you would never hear in a department store or restaurant, now is common. I’m offended by that, so please start an investigation.

      • Your “offendedness” is irrelevant because you are (presumably) white. The canons of modern American libtwittery hold that you are not allowed to be offended. However, if you are part of a protected minority class then anything and everything can be considered offensive. A professor discussing her father’s membership in the Klu Klux Klan? Offensive! Call the governor. A student at a military school expressing his outrage at protesters who kneel during the national anthem? Offensive! Call the governor.Two black students being disciplined for missing a required event at a military school? Offensive! Call the governor.

        Meanwhile, our utterly useless governor has time for letter writing over these issues while large swaths of our state public education system flounder and differentially harm poor people including a disproportionate percentage of people of color. No outrage. Don’t bother calling the governor. He doesn’t care.

      • music, pants, language? that’s not racism… is it? geezy peezy

        in terms of getting “caught”. yep. better late than never and way better than they who refuse to admit it much less make amends.

    • Gene Wilder appeared in blackface in Silver Streak. I doubt he was a racist. I’m guessing neither is Ted Danson a racist; he was crucified for a stupid joke.

      • more than a few have done stupid racist type things without being a genuine racist.

        It’s in your heart. Some do stupid things but they’re not racist, just dumb.

        Others are racist to the bone – and make no bones about it but often hide it when exposure causes problems with their job or friends or other institutions.

  15. The school’s long history cannot be denied. People of color are saying it is still going on. Why don’t you insist to them that racism is not systemic?Have you contacted any of them? Or are you going to be stuck in UVA White Rage over a sign on a door? The end of Western Civilization and all that?

  16. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    The story of VMI’s integration cannot be denied. It is a story of an institution that brought out the best in men. One of the five first black cadets remarked back in 1968:

    “We were no different,” Gore said. “We all had the same hopes, fears and aspirations.”

    I think VMI will rise above the politics of this debate. As Jackson said at Chancellorsville, “The Institute will be heard from today”.

    This is a good article worthy of review. The struggle the cadets all cadets endured in 1968 makes me proud to be a Virginian.

    https://richmond.com/news/local/we-were-no-different-virginia-military-institute-integrated-50-years-ago/article_571bc89f-cb06-5995-a812-dfc12f3616db.html

  17. So, fluffy piece in the Richmond paper is the last word?

    • Baconator with extra cheese

      Heck no it shouldn’t end.
      Since the Governor said there is systemic racism there (and the Coonman knows) he has the responsibility to shut it down. He should defund VMI and all other institutions deemed systemically racist in his budget.
      I hope BLM and Black Legislative Caucus demand it.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      “We had bigger fish to fry in our minds,” Randolph said. “We were dealing with something that everybody has trouble dealing with — not black people, not white people, everybody — and that was being a rat at VMI.”

      Quote from Adam Randolph Class of 1972.

      The four of the five men who paved the way for others all have had an incredible life story to share. Glad you wrote today’s article Mr. Peter. It ended up inspiring me to research VMI in ways I had never considered.

    • Apparently for you a hit piece in the WaPo is.

  18. How about VMI’s response?
    From wset.com:
    “The president of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) responded to Governor Ralph Northam Tuesday, Oct. 20 after a probe into the school’s culture, policies, practices and equity in disciplinary procedures.

    “I am confident that the reviewers will find that the institute has acted according to the values that we aim to instill in our cadets– with honor, integrity, respect, and civility. I pledge the full cooperation of VMI officials in the review,” Boland wrote.”

    Full article including the letter from John William Boland, president of the VMI Board of Governors
    https://wset.com/news/local/systemic-racism-does-not-exist-here-vmi-responds-after-reports-on-racist-incidents

  19. This is what the “woke” movement is about, no?

    • Interesting LarrytheG, ARE YOU WILLING to admit that all people are racist? You have taken each comment and turned into a race issue. You promote race baiting. What utopian world do you live in?

  20. I don’t doubt that some (many?) black cadets have had terrible things said to them. On the other hand, my sense, and I think the sense of everybody I knew at VMI, was that overt racism would have serious consequences. Obviously some didn’t get the message.

  21. There will be racist acts everywhere, but that does not mean there is systemic or institutional racism. I will wait to see the report, but, like in The Crucible (and the McCarthy period), you are presumed guilty if charged these days.

    A quick survey of VMI shows it has middle of the pack admissions stats for Virginia public universities, but it has the highest ROI/NPV (according to Center for Education and the Workplace analysis) and one of the lowest student loan default rates. That suggests value add to me. I have long thought the institute provides a valuable option for those inclined toward service, and also for those who need to add discipline, structure, and a sense of shared purpose in their life.

    • I think if you have racist acts ongoing in an organization – as an organization – i.e. when they are conducting “business” – even at VMI – then the leaders of the organization are responsible for addressing it.

      It’s called a “hostile workplace” and in the past, organizations would claim they were not resonsible for individuals in the organization. That’s bogus and especially so if it’s a systemic pattern – and they do nothing about it.

      • They are responsible for it, and we will see what actions were taken by the administration for any issues they became aware of. But what is happening today is any racial incident is automatically assumed to be part of systemic racism. I don’t think we should jump to that conclusion. Racists exist and therefore there will be racial incidents, but that is different from systemic racism. What is happening today, like in this case, is a reporter can get a few incident stories, with little corroboration and limited context, and blow it into a systemic racism story that will threaten to cancel an entire institution. This could happen at any school. I will wait for the report.

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